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The Spark



 Guest Post by Landon Saunders


There was once a young blacksmith who went into a village to set up his blacksmith shop. He put up the building; he had his forge, his tongs, and the bellows. He had everything in place, so he opened for business. The orders started coming in, but even though the young blacksmith had all the equipment to get the jobs done, he was unable to get anything to work.

Finally, he asked an old blacksmith in the village to come over and tell him what was wrong. The old blacksmith came to the new shop and complimented it, saying, “You have a fine shop here—an excellent forge with good bellows and tongs—but the thing you are missing is the spark. You don’t have the spark, and without the spark, without the fire, you really don’t have a blacksmith shop.”

I think the same thing is true of a human being. Human beings can have their arms, their legs, their minds, their tears and laughter…they can have all these things, but if they don’t have a spark inside—if they don’t have a fire inside—then they will not experience an exuberant, joyful kind of life.

When we find ourselves looking around, seeing everything in good working order, but unable to live out that joyful life, perhaps we should look to the spark and cultivate the fire within. Then we can get to the business of being human.

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Don’t Postpone Joy



[Reprised from 2017]


When we lived in Manhattan, there was a toy store in our neighborhood with a sign in the window that read:

“Don’t postpone joy.”

 Clearly, this reminder was for grownups; you don’t have to remind kids about joy.

For some reason, in adult life, we sometimes leave a lot of joy behind along with those childhood toys. Maybe we think of joy as frivolous, childish.

But in his book, The Inner Game of Work (2001), Timothy Gallwey tells two stories that illustrate the importance of joy to our adult lives.

First story: A sales manager in a large company told his salespeople: “This quarter, in our weekly sales meetings, we are not going to talk about how many calls or sales you made. We are only going to talk about how to make your work more fun, more enjoyable. You still have to do your work, but our focus will be on joy.”

What happened? You guessed it: at the end of the quarter, their group made more sales than any other group in the company despite making fewer sales calls and spending less time on paper work.

Second story: A similar thing happened with a group of women who worked as telephone operators (a very stressful job). After the women were trained to have more fun at their work, their job performance went up while their stress levels went down.

There was an added bonus from this approach. The women reported that because they had learned to enjoy their work more, they usually came home more relaxed and in a better mood, and this had a positive impact on relationships at home.

Joy is not the answer to everything. But it seems, at least, to be the “grease” that helps keep the gears of life running smoother.

So, as Sikorsky, the inventor of the helicopter said:

 “Be absolutely determined to enjoy what you do.”


Going On 66 Days



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


I’m human for each and every day of each and every year of my life—never anything else. So how do I choose to be human?

To help answer that question we might ask another question: How do I feel about my life?

I don’t have many words that I’ve used for an answer to that question. I’ve experimented with a few such as fulfilled or purposeful or meaningful.

But, the one word I’ve come back to, over and over, through many years, is the word joy. For me, joy has been like an old boomerang that’s hard to throw away—it just keeps coming back.

Now, you may be thinking, “But, Landon, you’ve spoken of joy many, many times. Do you really think you need to say it again?” I do, and here’s why:

Studies have shown that it takes anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a person to form a new habit or an average of 66 days for a new behavior to become automatic.

Joy is not an easy word to define. It’s better to take note of how it occurs, when it occurs. Joy occurs when what is most real inside you connects with what is most real in any activity or relationship. That is where a deep sense of trueness is felt.

Joy invites us to feel true about our life, to believe true, to talk true, to love true. (That may not have been said with grammatical beauty, but you get my drift.) Joy moves me along on these tracks of genuineness better than any other word I can think of and away from tracks of pretension, falseness, and fakery.

So, let’s keep saying and thinking this for at least 66 days! The presence of joy is surely worth the effort. And I’ll try my best not to let us forget it!

“What Are You Doing Right Now?”



Sometimes we can stay so busy, so preoccupied, with our heads down running here and there, and yet never quite feel that we truly are where we are.

Zorba speaks to this problem when he tells his English boss:

 “I’ve stopped thinking about yesterday, boss, and I don’t think about tomorrow. I say to myself, ‘Zorba, what are you doing right now?’ ‘I’m working.’ ‘Then work well, Zorba.’ ‘Zorba, what are you doing now?’ ‘I’m eating.’ ‘Then eat well, Zorba.’ ‘Zorba, what are you doing now?’ ‘I’m kissing a woman.’ ‘Then kiss her well, Zorba. Don’t think about anything else. Just get on with it.’”

 Life is given to every person (rich or poor, educated or not) one day at a time, one moment at a time. Apparently, that’s the way it’s meant to be lived.

So imagine that every day, every moment, life is asking you: “[Your name], what are you doing right now?”

When you answer, life says, “Good. That’s good. Now how much of yourself—how much awareness, aliveness, and delight—could you bring to what you are doing now?”

(Hint: It’s not a question of judgment, but of joyful exploration.)

Living in the present is the vaccine against Unlivedness, a kind of pandemic that erodes quality of life for millions.



Living With Newness



Remember Etch-A-Sketch? If you messed up a drawing, you could shake the Etch-A-Sketch, clear the slate, and start brand new—just like that.

Don’t you wish life came with a clear-the-slate function? George E. Woodberry believes it does: it’s called sunrise. He said:

“Always begin anew with the day, just as nature does; it is one of the sensible things that nature does.”

Maybe this is why life is given to us in one-day increments, so we can clear-the-slate each day and start as fresh as the morning.

I know this is a bit of a cliché—so let’s take it a little deeper. Let’s think about what it’s like to start new each day.

You rise early in the morning. You take a quiet moment to clear the slate, to turn loose of yesterday’s burdens, tomorrow’s fears, and to forgive yourself and others from the heart—which frees you up.

Now you’re ready to accept that most priceless gift—a day of life.

And you’re ready for that important mission—to bring your whole self to this day which will not come again…to try to see others with new eyes…to bring a sense of newness to tasks and problems.

You say, “What difference does it make?”

For one thing, it will help protect your heart and soul from the deadly drag of same-old sameness. It will help you be more alert to the little joys and surprises of being alive. It will guard you against the numbing effects of boredom (and keep you and me from turning into numb-skulls).

For another thing, the better we get at living with this sense of newness and joy and surprise, the better it will be for our relationships.

And then there’s this: a day is a micro version of your life. The better we get at living one day, the more this creates a joyful momentum for our lives. It may be all we have to do!

So tomorrow when the sun comes up…remember the Etch-A-Sketch. Start fresh. And make today a new work of art.

Being Still



Guest Post by Landon Saunders


Henry Miller titled one of his books: “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird.”

My hummingbirds have returned for the summer. I watch them with fascination, and they bring delight to my soul.

I’m told the wings move up to eighty times per second. I’ve never tried to count them myself, so I’ll take their word for it.

I was sitting on my porch the other day with all my life before me, so many things to do, so much urgency, my heart rate accelerating. Then I saw the hummingbird and was reminded of Miller’s words: “stand still like the hummingbird.” Could I, with all the speed of life I was feeling, “stand still like the hummingbird?”

I thought: “I’ll try.” My life kept speeding, but I was still. And I heard the music—the humming of the bird…and my soul began to join the melody. And, at least for a moment, I, too, was able to taste the sweetness of life’s flower.

Now, you may be thinking, “Oh, that Landon! What foolhardiness will he come up with next?”

Or you might give stillness a moment when you feel harried.

It’s magical.

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How Free Could I Be?



In celebration of independence day, let’s ask: what is the greatest freedom you could pursue or experience? How free could you be?

Perhaps you would want a kind of freedom from wounds, freedom from the past, as Sarte put it:

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.”  

Or maybe you would want the freedom to create a better future and a better self, as Camus put it:

“Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”

I like to think of freedom as the ability to live beyond rewards and punishments. In other words:

What sort of person would you be if there were no rewards or punishments, no praise or criticism, no approval or disapproval? How would you live and what would you be if it was entirely up to you—if what others thought about you didn’t matter?

Could you be free enough to love yourself as you are, even with failures and ornery problems, simply because you are a worthwhile, one-of-a-kind human being?

Could you be free enough to love others without conditions or expectations, just because that’s who you are and who you want to be?

Could you be free enough to create joy in your life through good times and bad—not in spite of the difficulties of life but because life is so difficult?

Could you be free enough to live dangerously in the fight for people?

What other ways would you want to be more free?

It’s a good question to ponder on this Independence Day holiday: How free could I be?