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Beyond The Two Buckets



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


The fear of punishment and the hope of reward motivates a great deal of human behavior—they are the two buckets.

I love the old story of a wise woman and teacher named Rabia, who believed that there was something greater than the two buckets that dominate and oppress the lives of most human beings.

To make her point she was seen walking through the streets with a bucket of fire in one hand and a bucket of water in the other. When asked what she was doing, she said, “I want to put out the fires of hell and burn down the rewards of paradise. They block the way to love. I do not want to love from fear of punishment or for the promise of reward; love is not like being a shop-keeper trying to come out ahead.”

Rabia, in the story above, was all in for a life of love. She did not approach love asking, “What’s in it for me?”  Not punishment, not rewards—such thoughts can be obstacles to love. We don’t want to say: “I do what I’m doing because I’m afraid.” Love casts out fear.  And we don’t want to say: “I do what I’m doing so I’ll be rewarded.” Love is not a business transaction.

How much greater is love when you do what you do because you are loved, because you love. Let love be so deep in your DNA that you just can’t help it. It’s been said that the greatest treason is to do the right things for the wrong reasons. Rabia points us to loving beyond the wrong reasons.

Love changes the atmosphere even as the warm sun of Spring takes the chill away. Never underestimate love. Nothing is more needed in the world, in our lives, than increasing the occasions and durability of love.


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Busy Being Born



President Clinton once made a speech about confronting the new challenges of the global village we live in. Rather than be frightened by change, he said:

“We must make change our friend.”

Let’s make this personal. Is change my friend or my enemy? And, can I change?

I believe the human being’s ability to change is one of our most hopeful resources. Look at how we changed and adapted to take on the challenge of COVID.

But change is difficult. We feel threatened. We long for the comfort of the same-old same-old. Sometimes we wonder, does human nature ever really change?

Bob Dylan’s line reflects these tensions:

“He [who is] not busy being born is busy dying.”

Psychologists know that this actually states a profound truth about human life.

The little child sees the big kids playing and she wants to join them. And, in time, she will. But she’ll have to go through a painful transition; she’ll have to “die” to her infant-attraction to her mother to be “reborn” as a big kid.

(I remember being in third grade, watching the big, bold sixth graders. They were a bit intimidating and I could not imagine ever being one of them.)

And so it is with every phase of our lives. Dying to the old self, the old comfortable routines, is necessary to be reborn to a higher, better self.

Bob Dylan’s line reminds us that this death-to-rebirth possibility is always in us and available to us. We are human, and we can change!

I think this gives us an exciting way to look at life. Here are some examples: 

  • Death to living for “someday when” is the birth of living joyfully in the present.
  • Death to fears and worries is the birth of greater aliveness.
  • Death to needing to be the center of attention is the birth of becoming a person who pays attention to the things that are central in life—the birth of wisdom.
  • Death to placing conditions on our love for others is the birth of the freedom to love without conditions or expectations. It’s the birth of compassion.
  • Death to our addiction to comfort and security is the birth of the courage to rise and live a great story.

I don’t see these as once-for all changes, but as a hopeful, daily process, a spiraling upward. No matter what my yesterdays hold, I can be reborn today.




Guest Post by Landon Saunders


I like the word “awakening.” It makes me think of new beginnings. Awakening is what we do each morning after a night of sleep. It’s part of the physical experience of every human being, and it’s just as important to experience a new beginning on the inside.

But awakening doesn’t always come so easily. Yes, when that alarm goes off in the morning, it can sometimes be difficult not to hit the snooze and roll over. But, even more importantly, it can be difficult not to stay “asleep” on the inside.

It is so easy to become hypnotized by habit. The little things, day by day, week by week, tend to wear us down, so that one day we realize we have yielded our humanity to the familiar, the comfortable, the convenient, the routine, the secure. We have kept our eyes closed and stayed asleep.

Awakening means taking time. It means learning to relax and enjoy the moment. It means remembering again that you are important, and that you are the only you there is. It means discovery is a part of your life. Each day we can awaken to sunlight and stars, to wind and grass, to new conversations, new feelings, new friends.

Awakening is as essential to the quality of our lives as it is to the health of our physical existence. It should be a daily experience.

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The Adventure Of Life Its Own Self



I don’t why this is so, but it seems we humans are often afflicted with some form of Grass-Is-Greener-Somewhere-Else Syndrome.

It’s just a feeling that life could be LIFE—but only somewhere else; not here, not now, not in these ordinary, everyday circumstances. It’s life if only this or that would happen. Or it’s life someday when this or that happens.

But sometimes, after that “other thing” happens, we’re soon right back where we started, bored with the ordinary, looking for another someday when.

But what if we could take away “if only” and take away “someday when” and just have life? What if, through a simple shift in perspective, life its own self could be enough?

This week, two writers speak to this thought. The first is German poet Rainer Rilke.

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches.”

Rilke is saying that the real riches of life don’t depend on outward  circumstances. The true riches are in us—in our ability to tap our inner resources to meet the adventure of the ordinary everyday.

Henry David Thoreau said much the same thing. He wrote the following while he was living alone for two years in a cabin he built next to Walden Pond.

“However mean [ordinary] your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names…The fault-finder will find faults even in Paradise. Love your life.”

Now, I believe we’re entitled to find or create the best circumstances we can. But Thoreau is reminding me that loving my life is not so much about circumstances.

Loving my life is about me. It’s about learning to open the eyes of my heart and see ordinary moments and other people with new eyes. It’s about learning to experience everyday life in a slightly higher key. It’s about seeking to recapture something of my inner child—that exuberant embrace of the incredible gift of life. It’s about a full-on, loving embrace of what is. It’s about exploring the possibilities of being a one-of-a-kind human being that is growing deeper and more alive every day.

It’s about not waiting for ideal circumstances to turn life into LIFE.

It’s about embracing the adventure of life its own self here and now.

An Artist of Appreciation



Guest post by Landon Saunders


Baltasar Gracian (1601-1658) wrote a little book entitled “The Art of Worldly Wisdom” that has influenced millions, great and small, for more than three hundred years. It is a collection of three hundred aphorisms that address our dealing with others and our engagement with the world.

Aphorism 195 begins: Know how to appreciate. In it he writes: “It is useful to know exactly how to enjoy each person. The wise person esteems everyone, for he recognizes the good in each, and he realizes how hard it is to do things well.”

Our innate capacity to appreciate surely is one of our richest resources. At times when we struggle with “cabin fever” or its opposite—feeling isolated—this is often a neglected resource that pays great dividends. It’s actually appropriate in all situations of life

The expression of appreciation does not attribute perfection to the other. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of the worth of others, of their capacity to do and say good things. It reflects the good in you, your ability to see commendable things in others, your generosity of heart to express what you see. It’s a win-win resource—a win for the person you appreciate, and a win for you.

Think about it: here’s a human encounter that only takes a moment but the dividends can change the entire atmosphere, deepen relationship, bring warmth and joy. It even has the power to thaw hard feelings, hostilities, tension. Yes, it even helps with that annoying, undeserving, obnoxious character you know!

Okay, enough said. I’ve only said what we all already know. Just a reminder.

Know how to appreciate…enjoy each person. Though written years ago, age hasn’t taken the “shine” off this one.

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What’s In Your Backpack?



I’ve shared some Nasruddin stories here before; he’s that little character from Middle Eastern literature who went around in a turban and goatee saying things that were kind of funny but also had some wisdom. Well, here’s another Nasruddin story:

One day, Nasruddin sees a man walking down a road carrying a backpack on one shoulder; he is bent over and looking depressed. Nasruddin follows the man, then runs up behind him, snatches the backpack, and runs on ahead around a bend in the road. After the man gets over his shock, he yells and chases Nasruddin. When he comes around the bend, the man is astonished to see his backpack lying in the middle of the road. Delighted, the man picks up the backpack and goes on his way, whistling to himself. Nasruddin, watching from behind a bush, says, “Well, I guess that’s one way to find happiness!”

 No doubt, there are several ways to take that story. I like the way it gets us to laugh at our own attempts to find (or avoid) happiness.

But the story also reminded me of an experience I had.

I woke up one morning with a vague fear and anxiety weighing me down. Thoughts about past mistakes and bad decisions circled in my brain, and the more I tried to ignore them the worse I felt.

If I keep this up, I thought, I’ll probably work myself into a genuine Grade A depression!

But then the thought came to me, You can’t fix the past and you don’t have to. All you have to focus on is today—living today the best you can. You don’t have to carry anything else.

Now I know this is obvious stuff, almost a cliché, even. But as I thought about it—it was as if a heavy load was lifted. The dark cloud faded and I was able to go about my day.

Maybe there’s a reason life is only given to us one day at a time. Maybe living today well is the load that’s right for us, the only load we’re meant to carry.

When George Burns was in his 90s, he said:

“People say life begins at forty. That’s ridiculous. Life begins every morning when you wake up.”

 How true, George. How true.

So…what’s in your backpack?

You Can Ride An Elephant



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


Dangers lurk within our world that only very big human beings can confront—not one or two, but a multitude of big human beings.

The world, the universe, is so vast it can make us feel small, even insignificant. So how do we assess our place in a vast world that contains frightening dangers?

Frank Wilczek, Nobel Prize-winner in Physics, writes in his new book, “Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality,” “The world is large, but we are not small,” then adds that we are able “to contain the outer universe within our minds.”

Walt Whitman put it this way in his “Songs of Myself”: “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Blaise Pascal: “The universe grasps me and swallows me up like a speck but through thought I grasp it.”

Ah, we are very big in a different, wondrous way. Some tiny human beings can even ride an elephant! We figured out a way to do that! Because we are very big!

Now, some make our bigness into something quite ugly. They let their egos grow wild, untamed, to the harm of those around them. Some demand all the attention instead of paying attention.

Let’s face it: small, petty, angry, aggrieved, hateful, selfish people—these make small what is otherwise something very big found in each of us. Such human beings cannot confront the dangers of our world, but rather, are part of the danger.

I think the world is designed for very big human beings to work together to do very big things that make the world ever better, ever birthing the new, ever overcoming the odds. We deal with fires, earthquakes, floods, wars, pandemics, surprising ourselves, again and again, with the untapped resources found within us.

Yes, great dangers lurk within our world, but we are very big. You are very big. You astonish us with the good you do—with those around you. You can ride a very big elephant…because you are very big.

A Human Being’s Most Terrible Need



I keep a quotation from Taylor Caldwell’s book, The Listener, on my office wall. Lately, I’ve found myself more deeply challenged by it:

“Man does not need to go to the moon or other solar systems. He doesn’t require bigger and better bombs and missiles. And he will not die if he does not get better housing or more vitamins. His basic needs are few and it takes little to acquire them, in spite of the advertisers. He can survive on a small amount of bread and meager shelter. His real need, his most terrible need, is for someone to listen to him. Not as a patient, but as a human soul.”

In this time of reduced human connections, it’s worth asking: why is it so hard to make the kind of genuine human connections Caldwell is talking about?

Maybe because we don’t listen long enough and hard enough?

I can certainly relate. If I were to tell you one thing I regret, I think it might be that I didn’t listen better to the people who came and went in my life.

I think of people I knew—but didn’t really know—because my listening was superficial.

I think of the times I didn’t listen hard enough to get past the surface talk. I think of the stories and personal connections I sometimes missed.

I think how much richer my experience might have been if I had shared more of the stories of people who came my way—family, friends, co-workers.

So I’ve decided to challenge myself to strive to listen more and longer and deeper.

I want to listen long enough to get past those cobwebs of self-interest and preoccupation and judgment that clog my brain…long enough to truly hear.

I want to listen long enough to sometimes unearth the story only that person can tell.

Someone has said that when you walk down the busy street of a city, all around you are stories that would break your heart and stories that would inspire the best in you.

I don’t know if that’s true. But I’d like to learn to listen well enough to test it out.

Here’s why: I believe that true, deep listening is one thing we can all do to make a difference. It’s one way to be in the world as a person who doesn’t just to pretend to care…but actually does.





Guest Post by Landon Saunders


For so many this has been the most difficult year of life. For some, it has been nothing less than a hellacious year.

There’s a saying that goes like this: “After much suffering, the tree must bear fruit.”

As we’re slowly emerging from this pandemic, many of us are asking, what now? We know many things will be different. Some say we will never be the same again.

But, despite how many things may be different, the most important difference will be you. At least this is our hope.

Each of us has been forced to see things differently—family, school, work, church, friends, even the simplest routines we always took for granted.

And that has the possibility of being one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever been given—the gift of seeing things differently. It’s like being given a chance to start things over.

Hopefully, the result of this new sense of seeing will be a deeper selfMaybe we’ve seen that we can be a little shallow, a bit selfish, a little too much living inside our own heads. Maybe we now see that we tended to take too many things for granted.

Maybe this deeper self will bear the fruits of greater patience, greater love, greater resilience, greater concern for others, in short, a richer human being.

We know we’ve suffered. Will we now see “fruits” born of our suffering? Will we taste them, digest them, make them a part of our new daily diet? Will we be of greater use to the world—better parents, workers, neighbors, friends?

It’s not too early for us to take a moment, reflect on what we’ve experienced, then begin feeding on the fruit of our new and richer self.

The new you.