9 August  2016      

Hello!  We all have a new week in our lives with many opportunities to do
new and different things, and to do the same old things in new and different
ways, if we choose to do so.  We sincerely hope that you're able to make this
a memorable week in your life in all sorts of positive ways!

 One Little Candle (an excerpt)
Rachel Naomi Remen

Loving (an excerpt)
Leo Buscaglia

Strategies for Being Kind
tom walsh

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In my soul, I am still that small child
who did not care about anything else
but the beautiful colors of a rainbow.

Papiha Ghosh

Intimacy is the capacity to be rather weird with someone--and finding that that's okay with them.

Alain de Botton

Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.

Theodore Isaac Rubin

Words can destroy.  What we call each other ultimately becomes what we think of each other, and it matters.

Jeanne J. Kirkpatrick


One Little Candle
Rachel Naomi Remen

Many health professionals have a deep regard for life and a wish to use their lives in service to others.  This commitment goes deep and often enables them to go on despite significant difficulties, disappointments, and losses.  Yet such things are rarely discussed in the doctors' dining room or at grand rounds.  Most of those who have passed through the professional retreat program at Commonweal say that while they have shared many difficult situations with their colleagues and have trusted one another's experience and judgment absolutely, they have never discussed what their work means to them or what has brought them to it with another professional before.  As professionals, meaning is a part of our secret lives.

It is hard to break these habits of silence, and during our retreats we often use symbolism as a way to open this sort of discussion among professionals.  The group sandtray enables a level of dialogue that might not otherwise be possible.  In a two-hour session, the eight professionals in the retreat have the opportunity to chose objects from our sandtray room that represent the meaning of their own work to them and use these objects to share this meaning with each other.

Marie, a young nursing administrator from a large urban hospital on the East Coast, too part in one of these sessions.

As each person seated around the sandtray table placed the objects they had gathered into their section of the sand, I noticed that she had kept something back and put it beneath her chair.  As the instruction is to use all the symbols you bring to the table, I had wondered about this.  One by one the group members spoke about the objects they had chosen and how each symbolized a part of what their work meant to them.  Marie listened closely and seemed deeply moved by what the others were saying.  About halfway through, she began to speak about what she had put before her in the sand.  When she finished, she fell silent for a few moments and then hesitantly told us that there was something she wanted to add that she did not want others to see.  She asked us to close our eyes while she did this.

The group of nurses, physicians, psychologists, and social workers sat around the table with our eyes closed.  In the silence, Marie reached under her chair for the object she had hidden.  After a few moments she told us we could open our eyes, and we saw she had placed a slender white candle in a tall candlestick in the center of her part of the sandtray.  It was unlit.  Just showing it to us obviously had a deep emotional significance for her.  I offered her a box of kitchen matches, and she sat holding them for a long time, unable to light the candle or even talk about it.  Finally, she lit it, saying in a barely audible voice that it represented her real self.  It was a touching and surprisingly intimate moment, especially powerful as the candle bore a striking resemblance to her own beauty, simplicity, and purity.

One at a time, others also shared their work, and then the woman seated next to Marie at the table began to speak.  She, too, had an unlit candle in her tray.  It was short and fat.  She told us that it represented her dream of being a professional and working with an open heart.  As she spoke, instead of lighting her candle with the matches, she picked it up, reached across the low wooden boundary between her section of the table and Marie's and lit it from the flame of Marie's candle.  Marie burst into tears.

The woman, a sophisticated psychiatrist, began to apologize, saying that she had no idea why she had not used the matches and had not meant to invade Marie's sandtray.  "Oh, no," Marie told her, "it's just that there's so much cynicism and judgment among us that I never show anyone at work what really matters to me.  Only my patients know.  I am afraid that people will laugh or that they will think less of me and so I hide myself.

"For me this work is holy.  It is my calling.  When you lit your candle from mine, I saw why it might be important to stop hiding.  Perhaps I can find the courage to be who I really am.  Perhaps there are others. . . like you. . . who are hiding, too."  There was a moment of silence, and then these two women reached for each other's hands.


In My Grandfather's Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen, a cancer physician and master storyteller, uses her luminous stories to remind us of the power of our kindness and the joy of being alive.  Dr. Remen's grandfather, an orthodox rabbi and scholar of the Kabbalah, saw life as a web of connection and knew that everyone belonged to him, and that he belonged to everyone. He taught her that blessing one another is what fills our emptiness, heals our loneliness, and connects us more deeply to life.


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Loving (an excerpt)
Leo Buscaglia

We're made, mostly, by the people who surround us.  We make each other every day.  I'm constantly telling this to people.  They say, "Oh, loving is so difficult."  I say, "Don't you know how easy it is?  Loving is simple.  It's we who are complex."  Loving means offering the hassled waitress a "Thank you.  That was great."

I ate recently at a real greasy spoon in Arizona.  It was one of those places that you walk in and the odor is enough.  Even the rats have deserted.  But the food was really good.  I had ordered pork chops, and somebody said, "You're crazy.  You're gonna die!  Nobody eats pork chops in a place like this."

I said, "But they smell so good!"  And someone down at the end was having them, and he had an enormous dish!  These pork chops were huge!  And so I ordered the pork chops, and they were magnificent.  After it was over, I said to the waitress, "You know, I'd really like to meet the chef."  And she said, "Was there something wrong?"

I said, "No, I want to tell this guy how beautiful it was."

She said, "Oh, my God.  No one's ever done that."  And we walked back, and he was back there sweating.  He was a big man.

And he said, "Whatsa matter?"

I said, "Nothing.  Those pork chops were just fantastic and those potatoes!  They were really wonderful.  I've eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, and they were as good."

He looked at me like, "God, this man's out of his mind."  And then do you know what he said, (because it was so awkward for him to receive a compliment)--he said, "Would you like another?"  Isn't that beautiful?  That's love.  That's all it means.  It means sharing joy with people.  When you see something beautiful, it means going over and telling them.  When you see something lovely, say to them, "You're lovely."  And then back away!  Because it's going to scare the hell out of them.

One of the funniest experiences I've ever had--maybe I've even told this to some of you--but it occurs to me now and it's such a beautiful kind of example.  I saw this lovely girl on campus.  She had golden hair and it was billowing in the sun.  It looked so special.  I passed her by and it flashed on me:  What beautiful hair that girl has.  And then as I walked by I thought, I should tell her.  So I spun around and I charged back toward her.  And she could sort of feel me, you know how you can do.  She turned around like "AAAACK!"  And I said, "Don't be scared.  All I want to do is tell you that you have the most beautiful hair with the sun on it, it's a real trip.  I just really liked it.  Thank you very much."

And then I moved away, because I know about the psychological premise of approach-avoidance.  You know, the further you get from the feared object?  So I moved slowly away, and as I got further and further away, it began to dawn on her that someone had paid her a compliment.  And she started to smile.  And by the time I got to the university entrance, she even waved and said, "Thank you."  It seemed to me that as she walked away, she stood ever taller, bringing her closer to the sun.

What's so difficult about that?  We have these opportunities every single day of our lives, and we don't take them.  We start with those people around us.  We teach them self-respect and we make sure that everybody leaves with their beautiful compliment that day.  People say, "Oh, but Buscaglia, that's artificial."  It doesn't have to be artificial when you really see it.  Don't tell me the people around you don't deserve an occasional compliment.  What's artificial about that?

. . . . And it never hurts anybody to be told that they are loved, to say to somebody, "I love you."  People say--especially this is true of men--"Oh, she knows I love her.  I don't have to tell her I love her."  Oh really?  When she's gone, then maybe you'll wonder why.  It's a simple thing to say, "I love you."  And if you can't say it, write it.  If you can't write it, dance it.  But say it!  And say it many times.  One never tires of it.  One may say, "Oh, never mind telling me that.  I know . . . "  But it's so nice to hear.

Living, Loving, and Learning is a delightful collection of Dr. Buscaglia's informative and amusing lectures, which were delivered worldwide between 1970 and 1981. This inspirational treasure is for all those eager to accept the challenge of life and to profit from the wonder of love.


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Belief in karma ought to make the life pure, strong, serene, and glad.
Only our own deeds can hinder us; only our own will can fetter us.
Once let us recognize this truth, and the hour of our liberation
has struck.  Nature cannot enslave the soul that
by wisdom has gained power and uses both in love.

Annie Besant



Strategies for Being Kind

Why are people even kind at all?  What's the big deal about showing kindness to others?  Aren't we in this world to fight for ourselves and to get what we can and to make sure our own lives are fine?  Sometimes I think that this is a dominant perspective in our society, for it seems that many, many people are so caught up in their own lives that there's little or no room for doing something for someone else, for showing simple kindnesses while we're going along trying to do our own thing and lead our own lives.  After all, why should I do something for that person if that person never has done anything for me?

What a sad perspective this is.  And probably the most important reason that it's sad is because by keeping kindness out of our lives, we rob ourselves of some of the best feelings that we're ever going to have.  Being kind helps to remind us of our humanity and our connections to all the other human beings on this planet.  A kind act leads to positive feelings on the part of both the recipient and the giver--and life without those kinds of feelings is much more empty than it may seem.

Why should we be kind?  It's important to answer that question before looking at how to be kind.  When we show kindness, we create positive energy between ourselves and the person to whom we're showing the kindness, and that energy cannot help but affect them in positive ways--even if they don't show that they've been affected.  They may not even say thanks, but that doesn't mean that they weren't affected.  That positive energy also affects the giver, and it creates a feeling of having accomplished something that contributes to the peace and love of the world rather than to the anger and discord in the world.  Showing kindness also helps us to feel good about ourselves and helps our self-confidence to grow; the more self-confident we are, the more we're able to contribute to the world in positive ways.  Being kind helps us to build our character, also--and the deeper and stronger our character, the more we have to rely on when things get bad and difficulties arise.


Neither genius, fame, nor love shows the greatness
of the soul.  Only kindness can do that.

Jean Baptiste Henri Lacordaire

Kindness doesn't have to be huge--it doesn't have to be the most important thing in a person's life.  It doesn't even have to be close to that.  We need to remember that most of our kindnesses are the "unremembered" kind that Wordsworth talked about, little things that contribute to the world in such a tiny way that we sometimes don't even notice them--but that make a positive mark on the world nonetheless.  And the most important element of being kind is the ability to recognize the needs of other people.  We can't show a kindness unless we see a need, even if that need is just to get groceries into the house or to compliment someone or to show encouragement.  Giving a $20 bill to someone who needs it could be extremely kind, while giving a $20 bill to a millionaire could even be perceived as an insult, and it certainly isn't going to help that person (unless they're in the checkout at the grocery store and can't find their wallet!  Then there's a need!)

When we recognize the needs of others, then we can decide to act in a way that will fill that need.  And we don't need to fill the need completely--if someone is taking a difficult class, we don't have to tutor them three hours a day until they pass it, but we may be able to look over a paper or review material with them to help them over a hump or two.  That person walking down the street who looks lost may just need a simple set of directions--we don't need to walk her to her destination.  In fact, sometimes the worst thing we can do is to go too far with our kindness, for we can make the other person feel beholden to us, as if they owe us something.  Or we can take away the pleasure of doing something themselves--a child who's building a model may just need a bit of help with a certain piece, but if we step in and build the whole thing for them, we've overstepped our boundaries and robbed them of a sense of accomplishment. 

Our conduct, the way we act, may be similar to a boomerang--
especially loving acts of kindness.  For kindness has a way of
returning to those who express it to others. . . . It is the truly brave,
the truly great, the truly unafraid who often exhibit the greatest
kindness in their activities.

John Marks Templeton

Kindness is easier if we actively look for ways to be kind--when we get in the habit of recognizing ways to do so, we get in the habit of seeing other people's needs.  This is especially important with the very minor needs that many people don't share--from needing a hug to needing to borrow something to needing to talk.  One of the most important acts of kindness we can share is simply sitting down to talk to someone--and actually listening to what they say.  By actively looking, we become adept at recognizing needs and finding ways to fulfill them.  Again, it's not necessary to solve another person's problems, but doing something to ease them may be a wonderful thing in their lives.  After all, if I'm carrying in groceries and you offer to help, I certainly wouldn't expect you to carry them all in.

And if someone does expect that, they're definitely taking advantage of your kindness, and perhaps it's time to back off and share your kindness elsewhere.

As with giving, it's very important to release ALL expectations when performing acts of kindness.  Many acts of kindness are completely ruined when the one performing them expects something in return--even something as simple as a "thank you"--and becomes upset or angry when they don't receive it.  Why ruin an act of kindness?  So you shouldn't ever expect a thank you or for the other person to return the favor someday or any other form of repayment.  Kindness should simply be for kindness' sake--not for the hope of a return.

Kind words produce their own beautiful image in one's soul.
Everyone knows the pleasure of receiving a kind look,
a warm greeting, a hand held out in time of need.
And such gestures can be made at so little expense,
yet they bring such dividends to the investor.

The War Cry

One of the most effective acts of kindness is the anonymous one.  If you do something for someone else and that person doesn't know who did it, your own expectations of getting something in return can't exist.  And there can be no chance of making the other person feel obligated to return the favor if that person doesn't know to whom they should return it.  There's nothing wrong with leaving a bag of groceries on someone's porch when they're struggling to feed their family (though if they're fiercely independent, that could be a mistake!).  There's nothing wrong with taking care of a co-worker's extra tasks so that she can go home on time today, without letting her know who did it.  In these cases, sharing a kindness can be doubly gratifying, as you've been kind to someone else and you haven't made that person feel obligated to anyone.

Sometimes, kindness is in what we don't do.  As a teacher, I can't tell you how many times students came to me expecting to be criticized or chewed out for not doing something or doing something poorly.  It was wonderful to see their relief when I simply asked, "When can you have it done?"  When a child breaks something and expects to be punished, a hug can go a long way towards making that child believe in the goodness of people.

I like to be kind.  I don't do it nearly enough.  Sometimes I even neglect it and I lose chances to be so.  I try, though, and I know that as I get better at it, it's going to become second nature to me, and my life will be much more gratifying and enjoyable all the way around.

More on kindness.


One of the most important elements
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Life is a place of service and in that service one has to suffer a great deal that is hard to bear, but more often to experience a great deal of joy.  But that joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their personal happiness.

Lev Tolstoy

An Irish Blessing

May your joys be as bright as the morning,
and your sorrows merely be shadows
that fade in the sunlight of love.
May you have enough happiness to keep you sweet,
Enough trials to keep you strong,
Enough sorrow to keep you human,
Enough hope to keep you happy,
Enough failure to keep you humble,
Enough success to keep you eager,
Enough friends to give you comfort,
Enough courage and faith in yourself to banish sadness,
Enough wealth to meet your needs,
And one more thing:
Enough determination to make each day
a more wonderful day than the one before.


Inspiration means that you don't have to figure things out, or think
about them. Ideas and answers pop into your head and the energy
carries you forward, if you allow it.  Planning. . . is a way of ritually
killing inspiration, which transcends the need for planning.

Chuck Spezzano


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