5 September 2017      

Hello, and welcome to today!  This is the only particular one of this day
that we'll see in our lives, so let's make the absolute most of it, shall we?

Grow Down (an excerpt)
Bernie Siegel

A Foolproof Formula for Success
Arthur Gordon

Your New Chapters
tom walsh

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Values are principles and ideas that bring meaning to the seemingly mundane experience of life. A meaningful life that ultimately brings happiness and pride requires you to respond to temptations as well as challenges with honor, dignity, and courage.

Laura Schlesinger

I expect to pass through the world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness or abilities that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now.  Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

William Penn

We should never be ashamed to own we have been in the wrong, which is but saying in other words, that we are wiser today than we were yesterday.

Jonathan Swift

Work is life.  Not having something to do with one's life, something important or unique to your talents or however you put it, is a bigger killer than cancer.

Ray Mungo

  
Grow Down
The Wisdom of Children (an excerpt)
Bernie Siegel

Love.  Accept the miraculous.  Be open to possibilities.  Take part in the ongoing act of creation.

We've heard all this before.  We know we should love one another and enjoy creation.  But how?  That's the hard part.  Paul was feuding with some of the other apostles when he wrote the famous love passage in Corinthians, and the people he was writing to were arguing among themselves.  It is one thing to know that love is the key to a life of peace and joy, but it is another thing to be loving.

If you want to become more loving, I can tell you where to find good teachers.  Animals can teach us a lot about living in the moment and appreciating the day.  About being in the right relationship with God and your fellow creatures.  About not being affected by money and not moaning and whining about problems.

If you want human teachers, I can tell you where to find them, too.  At lectures and seminars I tell people they'd be happier if they grew down rather than up.  My adult audiences usually agree when I go on to explain that many grown-ups aren't very good company.  We listened when people told us, "Grow up.  Get serious."  We have a limited view of the world.  There is a sadness about us.  We grew up, got serious, and became depressed adults.

Prophets, mythmakers and storytellers all advise us to be more childlike.  Who inherits the kingdom of heaven?  Who sees the truth about the emperor's new clothes?  Who lives a timeless life?

As a parent and physician, I have learned that when you lose the ability to be childlike you put your life and your health in danger.  Children, sick or well, can teach us about honesty and feelings.  They can show us how to be loving in the face of adversity and even death.  I have seen many children beat cancer--some by getting well and others by living fully despite the cancer that ended their young lives early.  Many children with cancer have written letters and some have written books telling what they learned from being sick, and those letters and books are some of the wisest writings I've ever read.

I saw that wisdom of children in my own family many years ago when it appeared that our son Keith, and the age of seven, had cancer.  He had complained about his leg hurting and finally, and his urging, we took an x-ray that showed a defect in the bone.  I immediately assumed cancer.  As a physician, I knew that the only treatment available was an amputation, and that even with this treatment our beautiful child would probably be dead in a year.  He was scheduled for surgery to biopsy the tumor, but in the week before his biopsy I viewed him as dead-within-a-year.

I was already living in a tragic future, mourning a death that hadn't yet occurred.  I couldn't play with the children or have any fun or make love because I thought I knew what was going to happen.  I wanted to tell all the children in the house, "Be quiet.  Go to your rooms.  Your brother is going to be dead in a year."

The children knew something was wrong with their brother, and they knew it might be serious.  But they didn't know the statistics so they did not live in a tragic future.  They went about playing, having fun, living each day as it came and not worrying about events that might or might not happen.  For that week, I was separated from the family by my grief.  Then the biopsy results came back and the tumor was a rare but totally benign growth.  So our beautiful son was not dead-within-a-year and I was able to rejoin the family.  Keith told me I had handled things poorly.  I agreed because I needed him as my teacher.  The experience helped me understand what the parents of my patients go through, and it also taught me the folly of living in the future.

You may have heard about living today, tomorrow, or "tonow."  Tonow, children tell us, is a gift, which is why we call it "the present."  Children understand that tonow is the place to live.  The present is really the only moment we have.  Sure, bad things can happen in the tonow.  But when bad things happen to children, they show us the way again, because they know how to be in touch with their feelings and needs.

In the last few decades psychologists have studied survival behavior:  Why does one person survive when another in the same situation perishes?  In war or in accidents or in illness, are there attitudes and behaviors that increase our chances of surviving?  I became interested in this question in my work with cancer patients, and over the years I've collected lists of survival traits.  When I give lectures I sometimes read one of my lists and ask people to guess what spiritual or self-help group teaches this particular set of maxims:

Tell the truth.
Do your best no matter how trivial the task.
Choose the difficult right over the easy wrong.
Look out for the group before you look out for yourself.
Don't whine or make excuses.
Judge others by their actions and not by their race or other characteristics.

Audiences make all kinds of interesting guesses about which self-help group produced such a wonderful list, but I've only had one person come up with the right answer.  "The United States Marines," a man called out one night.  He wasn't guessing; he was an ex-Marine, and he remembered what his instructors had taught him about survival behavior.

Children don't have drill sergeants to teach them survival skills, but they know intuitively how to deal with illness and other threatening situations.  They know it is good to ask--and even to bellow--for help and love.  Adult patients and their families often need to be told that it is healthy and life-enhancing to express emotions.  Feelings that are not expressed get stored inside where they become destructive.  When you tell adults this, they are not surprised.  Yes, they say, I know it is unhealthy to repress my feelings.  But they do it anyway.  Children, on the other hand, go ahead and express their feelings freely.  Infants are the real experts.  But by the time we become adults we need to be reminded that feelings should be expressed, and that noise and love can coexist.

  
  

This book is a continuation of the work I began when I became Bernie. It is a collection of stories about how to deal with life's difficulties. Most of the people in these stories have not had the great wake-up call; that is, they are mot facing life-threatening illnesses. So in a sense, this book is preventive medicine. It is a prescription for living that gives you effective and healthy ways of dealing with the adversity that occurs in everyone's life. I want to help you learn to accept your morality before something catastrophic brings you face-to-face with the end of your life.

   

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A Foolproof Formula for Success
An excerpt
Arthur Gordon

When I was asked to give the commencement address at a nearby college, a friend said to me, "It's easy.  All you have to do is give 'em a foolproof formula for success!"

It was said jokingly, but the remark stuck in my mind.  And the more I thought about it, the more convinced I became that there is a foolproof formula for success, available to anyone wise enough to recognize it and put it to work.

In American industry the competition for promising personnel is terrific.  Year after year businesspeople study college records, screen applicants, and offer special inducements to proven people.  What are they after, really? brains? energy? know-how?  These things are desirable, sure.  But they will carry a person only so far.  If one is to move to the top and be entrusted with command decisions, there must be a plus factor, something that takes mere ability and doubles or trebles its effectiveness.  To describe this magic characteristic there's only one word:  integrity.

Basically, the word means wholeness.  In mathematics, an integer is a number that isn't divided into fractions.  Just so, a person of integrity isn't divided against him or herself.  They don't think one thing and say another--so it's virtually impossible for the person to lie.  They don't believe in one thing and do another--so one is not in conflict with one's own principles.  It's the absence of inner warfare, I'm convinced, that gives a person the extra energy and clarity of thought that make achievement inevitable.

Integrity really means having a certain built-in set of attitudes.  Let me give you examples.

Integrity means living up to the best in yourself.  Years ago, a writer who had lost a fortune in bad investments went into bankruptcy.  His intention was to pay off every cent he owed, and three years later he was still working at it. To help him, a newspaper organized a fund.  Important people contributed heavily to it.  It was a temptation--accepting would have meant the end of a wearing burden.  But Mark Twain refused, and returned the money to the contributors.  Seven months later, with his new book a hit, he paid the last of his debts in full.

Integrity means having a highly developed sense of honor.  Not just honesty, mind you, honor.  The great Frank Lloyd Wright once spoke of this to the American Institute of Architects.  "What," he asked, "might this sense of honor be?  Well, what is the honor of a brick; what would be an honorable brick?  A brick brick, wouldn't it?  What would be the honor of a board?  It would be a good board, wouldn't it?  What is the honor of a person?  To be a true individual."  And that's exactly what Frank Lloyd Wright was:  an individual true to his own standards and hence to himself.

Integrity means having a conscience and listening to it.  "It is neither safe nor prudent," said Martin Luther, facing his enemies in the city where his death had been decreed, "to do aught against conscience.  Here I stand; God help me, I cannot do otherwise."

Integrity means having the courage of your convictions.  This includes the capacity to cling to what you think is right, to go it alone when necessary, and to speak out against what you know is wrong.  In the operating room of a great hospital a young nurse had her first day of full responsibility.  "You've removed eleven sponges, doctor," she said to the surgeon.  "We used twelve."
  "I've removed them all," the doctor declared.  "We'll close the incision now."
  "No," the nurse objected.  "We used twelve."
  "I'll take the responsibility," the surgeon said grimly.  "Suture!"
  "You can't do that!" blazed the nurse.  "Think of the paitent."
  The doctor smiled, lifted his foot, showed the nurse the twelfth sponge.  "You'll do," he said.  He had been testing her for integrity--and she had it.

Integrity means obedience to the unenforceable.  In a way, this is the heart of it.  No one can force you to live up to the best in yourself.  No one can compel you to get involved.  No one can make you obey your conscience.  A person of integrity does these things anyway.

During World War II, when our armies were slashing across France, an American colonel and his jeep driver took a wrong turn and ran into an oncoming German armored column.  Both men jumped out and took cover, the sergeant in some roadside bushes, the colonel in a culvert under the road.  The Germans spotted the sergeant and advanced on him, firing.  The colonel could easily have remained undetected.  He chose, instead, to come out fighting--one pistol against tanks and machine guns.  He was killed.  The sergeant, taken prisoner, told the story later.  Why did the colonel do it?  Because his concept of duty, though unenforceable, was stronger than his regard for his own safety.

Difficult?  Yes.  That is why true integrity is rare, and admired.  But in terms of ultimate reward it's worth all the effort.  Just consider a few of the dividends that integrity pays:

Boldness.  Integrity gives a person the strength to take chances, welcome challenge, reject the unsatisfactory-but-safe for the unknown-with-chance-for- improvement.  A person of integrity has confidence and can believe in him- or herself--because that person has no reason to distrust him- or herself.
 
Persistence.  Integrity often shows up as an unshakable single-mindedness of purpose, a tenacity that refuses to give up.  "Never give in!" said Winston Churchill.  "Never, never, never, never.  In nothing great or small, large or petty--never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."  And he never did.
 
Serenity.  People of integrity, I've noticed, are shock-resistant.  They seem to have a kind of built-in equanimity that enables them to accept setbacks, or even injustices.  Harry Emerson Fosdick tells how Abraham Lincoln was warned by his friends not to make a certain speech while campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 1858.  Lincoln replied, "If it is decreed that I should go down because of this speech, then let me go down linked to the truth."  He was serene.  He did go down, but two years later he became president.

There are many other benefits that integrity brings a person:  friendship, trust, admiration, respect.  One of the hopeful things about the human race is that people seem to recognize integrity almost instinctively--and are irresistibly attracted to it.

How does one acquire it?  I'm sure there's no pat answer.  I think perhaps the first step is schooling yourself to practice total honesty in little things:  not telling the small lie when it's inconvenient to tell the truth; not repeating that juicy bit of gossip that is quite possibly untrue; not charging that personal phone call to the office.

Such discipline may sound small, but when you really seek integrity and begin to find it, it develops its own power that sweeps you along.  Finally you begin to see that almost anything worth having has an integrity of its own that must not be violated.

A foolproof formula for success?  Yes.  It's foolproof because--regardless of fame, money, power, or any of the conventional yardsticks--if you seek and find integrity, you are a success.
  
  

In these warm, life-affirming essays, the author celebrates the beauty hidden in things which usually don't merit a second glance:  wedding vows spoken against the background of wind and waves. . . a small boy's first glimpse of shooting stars. . . and a legacy of love found in the dusty faded letters of an ancestor.  These are just a few of the "endless free gifts that life offers," if we learn to receive them.

   

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Those who every morning plan the transactions of the day and follow out that plan
carry a thread that will guide them through the labyrinth of the most busy life.
The orderly arrangement of their time is like a ray of light which darts itself
through all their occupations.  But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time
is surrendered merely to the chance of incidents, chaos will soon reign.


Victor Hugo

   

 

Your New Chapters

I often look at my life as segments, as chapters in the story that I'm living out day after day.  There are many times in my life when it seems pretty obvious that one chapter is ending, while another is beginning.  Sometimes it's the result of something rather dramatic, such as a job change or a move to another place; other times, the changes are much more subtle, such as not seeing a certain friend nearly as much, or improving the way I do my job or changing the way I eat.

No matter what the change, though, it's fascinating to think of starting anew in life.  I know many people who don't really know what it's like to start anew, because they're afraid of letting go of the past, afraid of venturing into the unknown and taking what probably will be significant risks.  But when I look at such changes as chapters, I realize that with any change that I go through in life, I have the benefit of bringing along with me all my prior learning and experience, but I also have the possibility of leaving behind me all of the negative experiences and feelings.  As I write new chapters in my life through my words and deeds and actions and reactions, I really do have a choice as to how I want the new chapter to proceed.

I also keep in mind that in many ways, I'm creating more than one book and living through the chapters of several books at a time.  After all, the book of my relationships moves on to new chapters at different times than does the book of my work.  I may learn something very important about how I relate to other people at one time, yet learn something important about my job--or move on to another job--at a completely different time.  While I begin the next chapter of the book of my spirituality next week, I may be stuck in the same chapter of the book of my intellectual growth until next spring.

I like to see these books as reflections of growth, not simply as changes.  I like to see the chapters as having positive progressions as I leave behind unhelpful habits and limited ways of thinking and destructive ways of treating other people, and move on to doing helpful things, thinking more productively and positively, and treating other people in constructive ways.  It really is my choice, of course, because I choose if I'm going to learn and grow, or if I'm going to stay stuck in the same patterns that hold me back and hold me down.

How many of us would like to imagine starting a new job and immediately getting stuck in old habits of complaining and being bored and getting stuck in ruts?  How many of us would want the new job to turn into exactly what the old job was after a month or two, except for a different setting and different people around us?  But that's exactly what happens to many, many people in the world who don't use the job as an opportunity to write new stories--stories about being helpful to their co-workers, about excelling at what they do instead of doing adequate work, about learning all they can about their job and responsibilities and getting really good at it all.

How many of us would like to move to a new city and have our lives become exactly what they were in the old city after a few weeks?  Wouldn't we rather be taking advantage of new opportunities and seeing new things and learning about our new environment?  Unfortunately, many people move to a new city and spend their free time with the same old TV shows or video games, never finding out just what the new place has to offer.  They follow the same patterns that they followed in the previous chapter, and this new chapter becomes a repeat of the last one, with simply a different setting and different names.

Thinking about life in chapters is helpful to me because in times of trouble or stress, I can always remind myself that this chapter, too, shall come to an end.  Since being laid off eighteen months ago, for example, the chapters that I've written have been difficult, at best, though still positive.  I keep in mind, though, that the difficulties will come to an end as long as I persevere and do my best to make the most of my situations.

Thinking this way also helps me to excel in whatever I do, because I know that I don't necessarily need to see myself as building a strong life--which would look like an overwhelming task--but as creating strong chapters that comprise the overall whole of my life.  And positive parts work together to create a positive whole.

We can start a new chapter any time we want.  We can end the previous chapter with the words "And then he or she decided that a change was needed, and started. . . ."  The new chapter would begin perhaps with words like, "Although it was difficult at first, she or he soon started to see the positive results of the changes in life."  And after that, we would talk about the difficulties that the changes caused and then the positive results of it all.  Starting a new chapter doesn't have to be an intimidating, ominous task; it can simply be a few minor changes in habits or attitude or perspective.

Our lives are made up of chapters, and we all go through our lives writing many different books at once.  Once we're aware of this dynamic, wouldn't it be nice to be writing our own new chapters instead of hanging around and hoping that life writes them for us?  It definitely is within our power to be doing so.

   
   

  

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I have come to suspect that life itself may be a spiritual practice.  The process of daily living seems able to refine the quality of our humanity over time.  There are many people whose awakening to larger realities comes through the experiences of ordinary life, through parenting, through work, through friendship, through illness, or just in some elevator somewhere.

Rachel Naomi Remen

  
The next time you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in "V" formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way.  As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following.  By flying in "V" formation the whole flock adds at least 71 percent greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily, because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone--and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those people who are headed the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.

It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south.

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

What message do we give when we honk from behind?

Finally, and this is important--when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshot and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection.  They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies; and then only do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group.

If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that!

unattributed
   

  

The history of every country begins in the heart of a man and a woman. . . .
And now the old story has begun to write itself over again.  Isn't it queer;
there are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating
themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before; like the larks
in this county, that have been singing the same five notes
over and over for thousands of years.

Willa Cather
O! Pioneers

    

  

   

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