Guest Post by Landon Saunders
We are constantly negotiating who we think we are with those near us—a spouse, children, friends, associates at work. And how we dealt with the things we have faced in our lives tells us a lot about who we are—how we faced failure or humiliation or suffering or accomplishment.
When we face such things, we have to reach deeper inside. We uncover things we didn’t know were there. We find strength we didn’t know we had. As you’ve probably noticed, I point often to these riches found in our person because it is so easy for us to forget this.
And many have faced things so hard that they said, “This is more than I can bear.” But the wisest hearts and minds through the ages have told us we do not face more than we can bear. And I think that has been born out in most of our lives. Though there are those who get over-whelmed, hopefully, others step in to provide help and comfort.
We bear up under extreme challenges because they drive us to reach down and find riches within us—untapped and unspent. Those riches can never be fully depleted or exhausted. You are living testimony that one can endure a lot along life’s journey. You’ve reached deeper and found new riches of courage, patience, flexibility, resilience, and hope.
Personally, I rely a lot on joy, and I’ve made joy the default of my heart. No matter what happens, I revert to joy which underlies it all. Joy is unmotivated. It is a capacity built into the human heart. Joy is there when we cry, when we suffer, when we fail, and when we succeed.
Joy never drains us. Let me say that again: Joy never drains us. To the contrary, joy adds energy and life to us.
So, in these times that try our souls…summon the joy. It is there…and it will come
Every July 5-10 in a small town in Turkey there is a huge celebration for Nasreddin, one of the most memorable characters in Middle Eastern literature. In fact, UNESCO declared 1996-1997 to be the International Year of Nasreddin!
So who was Nasreddin? He may or may not have actually lived in the 13th century, but his stories have spread around the world from Turkey to Africa, to China to the U.S.
Nasreddin (sometimes spelled Nasrudeen) was a sort of philosopher-fool in a turban and goatee. He went around doing and saying crazy things that sometimes had a bit of wisdom to them but always brought a smile.
So today, just to lighten things up a bit, I’m going to share two Nasreddin stories. The first story is just for fun.
A neighbor came to Nasreddin’s yard and Nasreddin went out to meet him. “Can you lend me your donkey today?” the neighbor asked. “I have some goods to transport to the next town.”
Not really wanting to lend his donkey, yet not wanting to hurt the man’s feelings, Nasreddin said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve already lent him to someone else.” Just then, the donkey could be heard braying loudly behind a wall in the yard.
“But Nasreddin,” the neighbor exclaimed, “I can hear it behind that wall!”
Nasreddin was indignant. “Who are you going to believe, me or the donkey?”
The second story has a bit of insight.
Hiding behind some bushes, Nasreddin observed a man walking down the road carrying a backpack. The man had his head down; he looked depressed. Nasreddin ran up behind him, grabbed the backpack and ran off ahead of him.
“Hey!” the man yelled, and gave chase. Nasreddin ran around a turn in the road, dropped the backpack, then hid behind bushes. The man came running around the corner and then stopped when he saw the pack in the middle of the road. Amazed and delighted, he picked up the pack and went off down the road whistling.
“Well,” Nasreddin said to himself, “I guess that’s one way to find happiness!”
Someone has said: to find enlightenment, you must lighten up. But that doesn’t mean to get rid of our burdens; we all have burdens. To lighten up means finding a way to carry the burdens with some joy and not take ourselves quite so seriously.
Guest Post by Landon Saunders
No one has a magic “fix” for these times. So many are experiencing life in a way never before experienced. Work, home, children, habits, worship, travel, routines—all have been upended.
We’re in new territory. We’re having to plug in our GPS even to know how to deal with our kids!
But, thankfully, we still have heart. And that’s not nothing.
The heart is hard to exhaust, even though we can sometimes feel we’ve lost heart. The heart helps us pilot our way through unexpected, difficult times.
And the heart surprises us with what it can come up with. Think for a moment what you have come through—yourself.
We’ve even said, “I’ve surprised myself!” The heart does a pretty good job at “making it up as we go along.”
Yes, no one has a magic “fix” for these times, but you do have heart. And, that’s what gets us through.
So, take heart. Trust your heart. Look for the surprises of your heart. I’ve even heard the song: “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” Even a glimpse of joy can be worth the world.
Let your heart surprise you.
I love these lines by American poet Edwin Markham, former poet laureate of Oregon:
“Defeat may serve as well as victory to shake the soul and let the glory out…Only the soul that knows the mighty grief can know the mighty rapture. Sorrows come to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.”
These days, there seems to be more than enough grief and sorrow and trouble to go around. On top of the daily news, many of us are experiencing family troubles, troubles with friends, troubled hearts—and it’s easy to feel swallowed up by troubles, like Jonah, in the ancient story, who was swallowed by a whale.
I’m familiar with the dark side. There have been times that failure and troubles and inner darkness left me feeling somehow disqualified as a person.
But I was wrong. I now know that the troubles and grief and failure in fact qualify us to be persons in this world. They are a part of being human, part of living in this world, and they come to every person. They can add depth to our story. In fact, the broken places in our lives can let the light in.
Joy and exuberance and meaning are not found when troubles are eliminated. They are found by finding a way to live in the world as it is. As Camus said:
“In the midst of winter, I found that there was in me, an invincible summer.”
That’s why it’s so important, especially in troubled times, to open up, to reach up, to keep reaching for light, to overcome and break through to joy—again and again.
This is a time to stretch our hearts for joy! If ever we needed people who have been through darkness and learned there to love life more deeply, this is such a time. How we need people who can radiate that deep love of life to those around them!
I wrote the following quotation down from somewhere and think about it often. I think it captures the spirit we need now:
“Life is immense and you need wisdom to break the self barrier. Free yourself to live, learn, laugh and learn about joy! The horizons widen before you. Come up! Come out! Life is not some small stale place of recycled fears and dreams. Stretch yourself!”
Guest Post by Landon Saunders
Centuries ago, the German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote: “To create something, you must be something.” But how do you get to be something? How do you become a somebody?
More and more it seems like the most common answer to that question is that your sense of being “somebody” is identified with what you do. The problem is, no matter what you do, most of us rarely feel that this tells the whole story of who we are.
A sense of self based primarily on accomplishment is, at best, a fragmented identity. It presents only one side of your total self, and it inflates that one side until your sense of self becomes lopsided.
So, if it’s not accomplishment that makes us “somebody” or “something,” what is it? The answer is, simply, You. To be somebody, you must realize and embrace that you’re the only expert on your life.
This doesn’t mean you can find all the resources for growth within yourself. But it does mean this journey is your journey. You must accept that the decisions you face in your life are yours to make, and no one else can make them for you.
Don’t be discouraged by this; instead, embrace the excitement and adventure that are yours. Then the“somebody” you have become can create something beautiful.
Guest Post By Landon Saunders
There was a great tree with lofty branches and deep roots. One day the lightning came and said, “Stand aside or I’ll blast you off the face of the earth.” The tree looked back and said, “I haven’t grown a trunk so strong and roots so deep to be intimidated by you. Strike away.”
We need the strength that comes from strong trunks and deep roots, but that doesn’t come easily or quickly. Trees spend years building deep roots so that when the lightning strikes, they will survive.
How do we do that? How do we grow these strong trunks and deep roots? I believe one way is to follow the great part that is in you, not the small part.
If there is resentment that creeps up in your life, don’t say, “Well, I am resentful. I’m just a resentful person.” Or if jealously comes to you, don’t say, “I’m just jealous. That’s just the way I am.” Or, “I’m selfish, and I wish I weren’t so selfish, but that’s just the way I am.” What are you doing? You are holding onto the smallest part of your nature, the worst part of your character.
Instead, grab hold of the greater part of who you are. If there is love in your life, follow it. If there is joy, pursue it. If there is a moment of generosity that arises in your day, don’t say, “Well, where did that come from?” But, rather, latch onto it, and do not let it go. This is the way we add strength and depth to our lives, so we can stand tall in the face of whatever lightning comes our way.
How is your relationship with time?
Sometimes our relationship with time feels tense or stressed. We say, “I never have enough time!” Sometimes time drags and sometimes it flies. We wonder, where did the time go? We can feel that we’re working against the clock.
Little children seem to have a different relationship to time—more relaxed, more playful. Their experience is more like that of Walt Whitman who said, “Time is a stream I go a-fishing in.”
And Zorba (in Zorba The Greek) says,
“I saw a very old man planting an almond tree and I said, ‘Old man, why are you planting that almond tree?’ He said, ‘I live each day as if I would live forever.’ Then I said, ‘I live each day as if I would die tomorrow!’ But I wonder, which one of us is right?”
Here’s the point: People who live joyful, exuberant lives seem to have learned a freer, more relaxed and yet more adventurous relationship to time.
Yes, they know they are timed. But they also know that they have all the time they need to do the things they really need to do in life—the things that truly matter to them.
I think it’s important to be reminded that we are not prisoners of time. We’re not locked in. We always have the option of choosing to explore and experiment and be playful and adventurous with time. We can live in a way that knows that time is on our side rather than against us.
We can make friends with time.
Guest post by Landon Saunders
Many years ago, Sydney Harris, the journalist, was walking with a friend who went to buy a newspaper. Now, the person selling the paper was very rude, but Sydney Harris’ friend just stayed calm and kind, and, no matter how rude the man was, the friend continued to be kind. Finally, when the transaction was finished, Mr. Harris asked his friend, “Why did you continue treating him so kindly when he was so obviously rude?” And his friend said, “Because I refuse to let him decide how I’m going to act.”
That’s the right spirit, isn’t it? “I refuse to let him decide how I am going to act.” How many times do other people decide how you’re going to act? Instead of being thermostats, too often we are more like thermometers. A thermometer merely reflects the temperature of the room. The thermostat changes the temperature of the room. In the case of Mr. Harris’ friend, what was he—a thermostat or thermometer? He was a thermostat. He was changing the behavior patterns by choosing a response that was surprising. It was unexpected.
Now that’s an exciting way to live as a human being! To live in a way so that another person does not program your behavior as you respond to them, but, instead, no matter how they respond to you, your response comes out of who you are instead of simply being a reaction to what’s going on around you.
That is an entirely different way to live and an entirely different way to act.
In his classic book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Victor E. Frankl, a professor of psychiatry, tells about the things he learned in three grim years at the concentration camp in Auschwitz and other Nazi prisons.
As Frankl tried to encourage his fellow prisoners, he saw that those who had the hardest time surviving were those who saw no more sense in life, no aim, no purpose, no reason. They felt they had nothing left to expect from life, so they were in danger of giving up.
Early on in that horrible experience, Frankl had realized that he just had to strike out his former life and turn loose of all those expectations.
Later, he wrote:
“What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly.”
Our situation today is nothing like being in a concentration camp, of course. And yet, don’t Frankl’s words speak to us?
When the things we expect from life have been upended, how freeing it can be to say: “It doesn’t matter so much what I expect from life; rather, what matters most is what life expects from me.”
I like that way of thinking about life—to see life as a daily courageous, exuberant, whole-hearted response to what my life wants from me and only me.
You have to admit, it beats getting depressed over all the things we can’t do.
And maybe it’s more than that. Maybe this is the way we quit waiting for the meaning of our lives to magically appear and, instead, create the meaning of our lives day by day.
Guest post by Landon Saunders
There is a wonderful story about Samuel Johnson, a famous British lexicographer from the 1700’s. He was a very large man, and, as the story goes, after he had become quite well-known, he decided to visit the house where he grew up.
The woman who now lived in it was excited about the famous Dr. Johnson coming and paying a visit to the house. But while she was getting everything tidied up and ready, she happened to look out the window and there, having stepped back several paces from the high fence surrounding the house, was Dr. Johnson—obviously sizing up the distance between where he was and the height of that fence.
Before she could do anything, the great Samuel Johnson, maybe 60 years old, started hurdling his large frame toward that fence. He took a huge leap and made it up over the fence but then went rolling in the dirt on the other side. She went running out and said “Oh, Dr. Johnson, Dr. Johnson, there was a gate over there.” He said, “Dear lady, I know there was a gate over there, but as a boy I used to jump that fence, and I just wondered if I still could.”
I suppose that’s what you would call exuberance for life! We need that exuberance, don’t we? We especially need it during these times when there are so many important and serious things that are clamoring for our attention—things that need our attention.
It can be tempting to trivialize and disregard the importance of exuberance, to see it as not worthy of our time in the face of so many other serious issues. But exuberance for life is not a luxury; it is a necessity if we want to approach any of the challenges of our world today with creativity, compassion, and humanity.
Make exuberance a priority in every day. I truly believe it is the force of life. Maybe this week, you can find your own fences to jump.