22 May 2018      

Good day, and thank you for being here with us today!

Creative Potential and Nature
Claire Thompson

Bernie Siegel

What Is Life?
tom walsh

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If I had to live my life again I'd make all the same
mistakes--only sooner.

Tallulah Bankhead

Pain is telling us something is wrong, that we need to
behave differently, that what hurts must be fixed.

Ernie Larson

Let no one who loves be called unhappy.
Even love unreturned has its rainbow.

J.M. Barrie


Creative Potential and Nature
an excerpt
Claire Thompson

We all have creative potential.  Beyond narrating negative stories to us, our minds are also a wonderful source of imagination and innovation.  Our creativity is an important part of us--it enables us to express ourselves and reflect upon the experiences we have in our lives.  Creativity is largely the ability to bring forth original, imaginative products through innovative thinking or artistic expression.

Spending time in nature has been shown to boost our creativity.  The reason behind this seems to be that in our everyday lives our attention is constantly occupied by our phones, our computers, our televisions, the general business of our lives, and so on.  This causes constant activation of what we call our "executive attention."  As our attention is drawn from one thing to another, we begin to deplete our ability to engage in more creative, fun, and playful thinking.  It seems that spending time with nature can refresh our minds by allowing us to expand our attention beyond our consciously thinking mind and letting the mind wander.  At times, it comes up with new and exciting ideas or thoughts, often when we least expect it.  Who wants to lose their ability to dream and imagine?


I often find that when I am in wild places, my mind begins to playfully daydream as I connect with the natural world around me.  I wonder what it would be like to fly like a bird across the mountains and oceans.  I imagine myself under the sea and try to gain a sense of what it might be like to swim my way through life like a fish.  I start to contemplate what it would be like to be an animal or a plant without a conscious mind.  I allow myself to drift in and out of asking myself questions I may never be able to answer and simply savor letting go to the inquisitiveness and curiosity of my childlike imagination.

Being with nature also leads my thoughts to engage with the things that are truly important to me.  I often think about my family, my close friends, and my passions, such as nature, music, and travel.  Mysteriously, my mind begins to free itself a little from the habitual thinking patterns it develops in the context of the routine of my everyday life.  As it tunes in to the sights, scents, and sounds of the natural world, it embarks on an unpredictable journey full of dreams and fantasies.  I start to enjoy engaging with my deepest aspirations and begin thinking with my enthusiasm and inspiration about how I could create change in my life to achieve them.

Happiness for Us All

Who doesn't want to be happy?  There is compelling evidence that having the natural world in our lives makes us happier.  We seem to show increased levels of satisfaction with our jobs, home, and life in general when we have natural settings nearby.  Spending time with the natural world also improves our mood, reduces depression and anxiety, and increases self-esteem.

The natural world also seems to encourage us to pursue our aspirations for personal development, close relationships, and greater community spirit (which, in turn, can increase our well-being) and reduces our desire to become richer and own more possessions (which are often associated with feelings of dissatisfaction).  As we become happier and more open to the rest of life, we also become more caring and generous toward other people when we connect with nature. . . .

So why does nature make us happier?  Well, it is perhaps not surprising because it is where we come from and where we belong; it is our home.  However, there is also evidence that nature enhances our capacity for mindfulness and reduces the time we spend engaged in worry and rumination over life's problems.  Nature captures our sensory experience, our curiosity, and our attention and naturally brings us out of our thinking minds and back to the present moment.  So it seems that becoming more mindful of the natural world actually enhances our mindfulness of our experience in other parts of our lives.  Nature is thus an excellent companion along the path of developing greater awareness and inviting greater happiness into our everyday lives.

more on nature; more on mindfulness


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Bernie Siegel

One afternoon I was speaking to a group called the Young Presidents' Association.  It is made up of young men and women whose companies are worth millions of dollars.  I asked them, "Is life fair?", expecting to get a resounding yes as an answer.  They yelled "No," louder than any group I have ever spoken to.  I answered, "It must be fair.  You're all complaining."

Money doesn't solve your problems unless you know what to do with it.  Ninety-five percent of all lottery winners say it ruined their lives five years after winning.  My father had his father die when he was twelve.  He said it was one of the best things that ever happened to him.  Why?  Because it taught him how to survive on his own and to realize that money was to help make other people's lives easier.

A while back one of our sons called me to ask for tuition money.  I reminded him that he had received a good deal of money as an inheritance when my dad died.  He said, "I gave it away to help a friend come to the States and go to college."  I gave him the money grudgingly.  I wasn't enlightened enough then to appreciate his exceptional act and how much like my father he was.  I have learned from them both and can live a much happier and peaceful life not keeping track of who owes me what but instead looking for ways to help others in need.

When my family and I were robbed, instead of holding the anger, I learned to see myself as offering the thief a few more dollars to get his children or mother a wonderful Christmas or birthday present.  Am I nuts?  Sure, but they no longer are stealing the value of my life by controlling my thoughts and emotions.

more on money


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I have given up the ambition to be a great scholar.  I want to be more--
simply a human. . . . We are not true humans, but beings who live by a
civilization inherited from the past, that keeps us hostage, that confines us.
No freedom of movement.  Nothing.  Everything in us is killed by our
calculations for our future, by our social position and cast.  You see, I am
not happy--yet I am happy.  I suffer, but that is part of life.  I live, I don't
care about my existence, and that is the beginning of wisdom.

Albert Schweitzer



What Is Life?

There's a part of me that wants to say, who am I to take on answering this question?  Then another part of me would reply, who are you not to?  You've studied this question for decades, and you've read much of the material available that addresses the question, so why not?  You may get the answer completely wrong, but so what?  At least you're trying to address it.

And then another completely different part of myself chimes in:  Why should anyone at all try to answer this question?  Isn't the goal of life to live it rather than explain it?  When we try to put things into words, we limit them dramatically to the meanings found in those words; when we live life without trying to explain it, we have deeper experiences and feelings, and we aren't distracted by trying to find words to explain those experiences and feelings to others.

Depending on whom you listen to, life can be a joy or a drag, beautiful or terrible, bright or dark, positive or negative--or even neutral.  For many people, life just is, and they go on existing in it without ever feeling joy or despair--they just muddle along and do "the best they can" without ever giving fully to the experience, and thus never getting fully from it, either.  I think that the people who are the least happy on this planet, though, as far as I've seen during my time on this planet, are the people who look at life as something that they get from, not that they give to.  Their focus in life is what they can get rather than what they can give, and due to their own perspective, they face constant disappointment.


O beautiful human life!  Tears come to my eyes as I think
of it.  So beautiful, so inexpressibly beautiful!  The song
should never be silent, the dance never still, the laugh
should sound like water which runs forever.

Richard Jeffries

Of course, there's a lot to get in life.  In our lives on this planet, we receive many, many blessings, from the presence of other people to the food and water that we ingest to the beauty that is all around us, all the time.  But if we think of life only in terms of what we receive from it, we're missing the point, and we're missing an awful lot of opportunities.

I believe that if I were to answer the question honestly, I would have to say that life is opportunity.  It's a series of opportunities to grow in love and wisdom and giving and caring.  We tend to look at life merely as a series of events--this happens, then this happens, then that happens--and we lose the ability to recognize the meaning behind those events.  When we see things as simply happening, we don't see the purpose behind the occurrences.  And if fact, we often completely ignore any lessons embedded in what goes on in our lives.

For example, two children grow up in a family with an alcoholic parent.  They both witness first-hand the damage and pain that the addictive behavior causes, and one of them learns from their experiences not to abuse alcohol in life.  This child grows up not having to deal with the horrible issues that alcohol can cause, and this person's children never have to deal with having an alcoholic parent.  The other sibling, though, doesn't learn the lesson at all, and grows up being an alcoholic him- or herself, subjecting their family and everyone else they know to the same harm that they experienced while young.

If I witness a relationship in which one of the people is dominating and controlling, I can see the damage being done, and it's up to me to grow and learn from what I see--and growing and learning in this case means rejecting the strategy of trying to control someone else so that I don't harm others and myself.

As I grow to understand life less and less,
I learn to live it more and more.

Jules Renard

Often we see the opportunities in negative lights.  Yes, it's difficult for us when someone close to us dies, yet it's also an opportunity to take the good things from that person and pass them on to others.  Was the person who died a loving person?  Then I have the chance to emulate them and become a loving person myself (once I work my way through the grief, of course!).  If I spend the rest of my time focusing on the loss and what I don't have, I can become full of resentment and anger and even despair.  But if I focus on just how blessed I was to have that person in my life for a certain amount of time, I can move on in life and continue to learn and grow.

When I got laid off from a job once, I never once saw it as a completely negative thing.  I saw it instead as life pushing me in a different direction, telling me that it was time to change what I was doing and the place where I was doing it.  We (my wife and I) went through some difficult times, but we also ended up having some wonderful learning experiences that we never would have had if I hadn't been laid off.  Life went on, and it was up to me to move on with it.

Right now I live with the idea that we're here to give to others.  That doesn't mean that I spend seven days a week volunteering for charities or that I don't take care of myself--on the contrary, I make sure that I'm doing okay before I try to give to others so that I'm giving from a strong position rather than a weak one.  And to take care of myself, I make sure that I have restful times that I spend reading and reflecting, and I make sure that I get out into nature as much as I can in order to experience the peace and healing that it can give me.

The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.

Okakura Kakuzo

I also like the idea presented here, the idea of readjusting.  Life changes, and that's one of the beautiful parts of it.  Much of our pain and dissatisfaction comes from a desire that we seem to have to keep life the same as it is now--because we're afraid that if it changes, it will become too difficult to deal with.  It won't.  Changes are inevitable, and it's important that be able to recognize the changes and roll with them.  We cause our own distress if we're unable to deal with changes, and all we have to do to avoid that distress is not try to keep life the same.  Let changes happen, for they present new opportunities to learn how to adapt and grow.  Some of the happiest people I've ever known are those who are willing and able to adapt to new circumstances, and that ability often comes from having lots of practice.  In my case, growing up in a military family meant moving from place to place very often in my childhood, which was often painful at the time, but which has led to an ability not just to accept the new in my life, but to celebrate it and learn from it and give to it.

One thing that I recognize is that if I were to sit down to write an article or essay with this same title two months from now--or even tomorrow--it may be a completely different article with a completely different focus.  But this is what came to me today.  Life is a chance to grow and learn, and to give to the others in our lives.  Let's take those chances and enjoy the processes of growing and learning, and make our lives whole and fulfilling, while we have them!

More on life.




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Some people confuse acceptance
with apathy, but there's all the difference in the world.  Apathy
fails to distinguish what can and cannot be helped; acceptance
makes the distinction.  Apathy paralyzes the will-to-action; acceptance frees it by relieving
it of impossible burdens.

Arthur Gordon

A Prayer for the World's Children
Ina Hughs

We pray for children
who sneak popsicles before supper,
who erase holes in math workbooks,
who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers,
who never "counted potatoes,"
who are born in places where we wouldn't be caught dead,
who never go to the circus,
who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.

And we pray for those
who never get dessert,
who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
who watch their parents watch them die,
who can't find any bread to steal,
who don't have any rooms to clean up,
whose pictures aren't on anyone's dresser,
whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
who spend all  their allowances before Tuesday,
who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
who like ghost stories,
who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub,
who get visits from the tooth fairy,
who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
whose nightmares come in the daytime,
who will eat anything,
who have never seen a dentist,
who aren't spoiled by anyone,
who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for the children who want to be carried and for those who must,
for those who never give up and for those who don't get a second chance, for those we smother. . . and for those who will grab the hand of anyone kind enough to offer it.



People are never helped in their suffering by what they
think for themselves, but only by revelation of a wisdom
greater than their own.  It is this which lifts them out
of their distress.

Carl Jung




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