This week I had to chuckle at this quotation from Robert Frost:
“Half of the world has something to say but can’t get it out. The other half has nothing to say and says it constantly.”
Well, yes, I can relate. It does feel like we suffer from word inflation today. We’re drowning in millions of words, but the words seem to lose value.
Just as you can be lonely in a crowd, you can also be surrounded by words…and bored!
When I was a boy, Dad once gave me two silver dollars. I don’t remember the occasion, but I remember how heavy they were, one in each pocket. I carried them around for weeks, feeling rich, and thinking long and hard about how to spend them.
Maybe we should think that way about how we spend our words. As a Bible verse says:
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”
In other words, using words wisely is a kind of wealth that can enrich our lives.
Our grandchildren remind us of the richness of words. We’ve watched with delight as, one by one, they learned to speak and then became more proficient with words. In their stumbling way, they make us laugh or tell us wide-eyed about something they’ve seen.
And just think: we still have this incredible wealth at our disposal, the wealth of words—the words we can use to create joy, to share stories, to heal (rather than harm), to make peace, to say something meaningful, to praise and encourage, and more.
Of course, this can be a real challenge. So, to help me do better with my words, I’m carrying around two special words, one in each pocket: “gracious” and “salt”. As in another Bible verse:
“Let your words be gracious, seasoned with salt.”
Paraphrase: “Let your words be honest but gentle, true but kind. And since we already have too many bland, boring words today, by all means, give yours some flavor!”
Since we’re thinking about thankfulness this week, I want to share the story of Irina Lazar as told in the wonderful little book, Living Life As A Thank You by Nina Lesowitz and Mary Beth Sammons. Irina begins:
“I had a difficult childhood, not because of abuse or neglect, just a hopelessness that followed me around like a dark little cloud.”
When she was fifteen, a switch flipped on and she began to appreciate and be grateful for her life. She says that “the veil of sadness lifted” and was replaced by a new mindset:
“I felt that I could do and be anything I wanted. I felt empowered, confident and, most of all, happy. My life opened up, I felt alive and ready to take on any opportunity.”
Later, in her 30s, Irina reflected on what this discovery had come to mean to her:
“I feel appreciation in my cells every minute of every day. It is the fuel that pulsates through me, driving me to enjoy everything in life, even mundane things like washing dishes, paying bills and running errands.”
I think Irina’s story suggests that there’s more to the Attitude of Gratitude than just counting your blessings; it’s a basic approach to life with many positive side effects:
- Gratitude is acceptance: it’s choosing to be thankful for life itself, for your particular life, for being you, and for each day, problems and all.
- Gratitude is empowering; it opens up a sense of possibility and boosts confidence.
- Gratitude makes one feel more alive because nothing is taken for granted.
- Gratitude motivates, energizes and fuels the life. It helps us keep going.
- Gratitude enhances one’s ability to enjoy all of life, even small moments.
We might say that gratitude is a way of saying Yes to life; it is the “open sesame” that can open us up to a richer experience.
But, someone might say, You don’t know the trouble I’ve seen. And besides, how can we talk about gratitude in times like these?
Good question. But isn’t that all the more reason to keep mining the riches of gratitude, thankfulness and appreciation?
Guest Post by Landon Saunders
Two Maine fishermen were talking about a college professor who was living in their village for the summer. The first one said, “He knows everything.” The other drove a nail into the lobster trap he was working and drawled: “Yup, but he don’t realize nothing!”
In a sense we know everything about our lives. It’s all stored in the incredible data banks of our minds. Miles and miles of film and tape of every moment of our lives.
So how do we pay attention to the right things? I believe finding some “dream space”—some quality time to realize who you are and what you want to do with your life—can help. Finding some “dream space” is an effort, then a habit, and finally a joyful necessity.
We spend time in this space when we meditate on the things that are important every day. The word “meditation” has become very popular in recent years, but it’s helpful to remember that it comes from the Latin meaning simply “being moved to the center.”
When we are moved to the center of our lives, we have the room to work, we’ve moved back from the edge of the cliff. At the center, we have a place to discover our real strengths and to grow. It means we are paying attention to the right things.
Here is a playful verse from Tukaram (c 1608-1649), the most influential figure in the development of the Marathi literature in India. It is entitled, First He Looked Confused.
I could not lie anymore so I started to call my dog “God.”
First he looked
then he started smiling, then he even
I kept at it; now he doesn’t even
I am wondering if this
might work on
This is not just about dogs, of course. I think Tukaram is saying something about the important work of naming people. We might paraphrase his thought like this:
Is there is a difficult person in your life? You might try giving them a new name.
Because the truth is, you’ve assigned a “name” to everyone you know. And the name you’ve given this person may be based on some of the worst things about the person—which is understandable. After all, they are pretty ornery!
But here’s the problem: The name you’ve given them, the way you see them, may be making it harder for change to happen, rather than easier.
So you might try renaming them based on their potential higher self, their hidden divine spark, the better angels of their nature.
It won’t be easy. That better self may be buried under layers of orneriness. (Not that that would ever happen to you or me!) But stay with it. Work patiently, mining the good, like a skilled archaeologist trying to uncover a rare gem under the ground.
Maybe the person has never met someone who can look beyond the surface and see their better self. (Wouldn’t you love it for someone to look at you that way?)
And who knows? Maybe giving them a new name will eventually free them for the dance of joy. Or at least get them to stop biting!
Guest post by Landon Saunders
Once there was a time management expert who was the founder and president of a company. His company prospered. His books and tapes were bestsellers, and his public appearances drew large crowds.
One night, this successful man had a terrible dream. In it, he was dying, and he reached out his hand to grasp the “To Do” list that this time management expert had so faithfully prepared. But, after he glanced at the list of items, he crushed it into a ball and let it drop to the floor.
He awakened from the dream, wet with perspiration. As he lay there, he couldn’t keep from thinking about his life. All his adult life he’d traveled the country urging people not to waste their time, and he had practiced what he preached. He never wasted time.
But he suddenly realized he had wasted something of far greater importance: he had wasted his life. It wasn’t that he had not done a lot of good things. He had. His problem was that he had neglected the things that are most important. He had neglected family, relationships, generosity, and love.
The truth is, managing time can be just an elegant way of killing time if it is based on a fragmented view of what it means to be human. So I think it’s worth asking ourselves if the things we are working so hard to manage each day are the right things for the kind of human being we want to be.
Maybe it’s time to crumple up that To-Do list. We might have to give up being experts at managing our time, but that seems a small price to pay to be an expert at being human.
Here’s another poem from Rumi (1207-1273), who is currently one of the most widely read poets in the English language.
I GUESS YOU WON’T MIND
Great lions can find peace in a cage.
But we should only do that
as a last
So those bars I see that restrain your wings,
I guess you won’t mind
if I pry them
Maybe you can relate to what Rumi’s saying. I know I can.
It’s amazing how we human beings can take something good—a job, a marriage, a religion, a circumstance—and turn it into a cage and then crawl in and close the door!
And when we do that, something happens to us. We stop being a person and start playing a role, following a script. Dreams fade, joy goes down the drain. Life gets more and more routine and more and more boring.
We suspect that leaving the marriage or the job or the religion or the circumstances probably isn’t the answer. Because the cage is not really built from our circumstances; it’s in our head.
So the question is: who will pry open the bars? Who will set us free to see again the true colors of life, to hear again life’s deeper music, to dance and play again, to discover again our freer, more loving, more generous, more playful self?
Yes, your old life would still be there, the problems the relationships the situations would be the same. The only difference…would be you. But who can free you?
Let me make a suggestion: your inner child. She’s still there, she’s always there, and it’s never too late to invite her to break you out of the cage…so you can fly!
Last week we looked at a poem from Kabir who lived in 15th century India. Let’s reflect on another small poem of his entitled, It Stops Working.
what happens to the scale
Ah yes, the scale. Could we really live without the scale? We humans are constantly weighing and measuring—ourselves and others.
Without realizing it, I can find myself putting others on a scale that I myself probably wouldn’t want to be weighed on. And if someone doesn’t measure up…watch out!
Or I can find myself weighing and measuring how much of myself I’ll give, how much I’ll care, how much I’ll love. After all, I have to protect myself, don’t I?
But what do I lose in that process?
A line from a T. S. Eliot poem says, “I’ve measured out my life in coffee spoons.” He’s saying something about the impoverishment of life that happens when we hold back too much, when we are too “measured” in how we live and love and give.
Kabir is not saying we should be unwise in relationships, but he is calling us to move beyond the “coffee spoon” life. He’s saying that all that weighing and measuring may fail to take into account the value of one human being…or the possibilities of love.
Kabir is gently suggesting that we’ll be better off if we love so freely and generously that we disable the scale: Go beyond those judgments and expectations and conditions you place on others, he is saying. You can give yourself freely, you can care deeply, you can fight for people, never against them—and it will be okay. You may get hurt at times, of course, but without the scale, your life will be much richer!
Or, as the Bible puts it: “The measure you give is the measure you get back.”