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11 April 2012 · 4:32 am

Our Capacity To Care

“I believe that every person must act according to the dictates of his conscience. I feel the capacity to care is the thing that gives life its deepest significance and meaning.” ~ Pau Casals … 

As pieces of the whole collective of humanity, our “capacity to care” is vital–we are all interdependent upon each other for so much in life. But as Pau points out, our ability to care for others also produces a deep and profound significance to life. By caring about others, we give ourselves the opportunity to add positively to the life of others, and in the process, add much more meaning and purpose to our own.

Some may view caring for others as a risk–if they care about someone or something, then that person or thing has the potential to hurt them. But this hurt that we typically associate as coming from others, actually comes from us, from our care, concern, and reactions to the things that they do and say. Many times it is our reactions that are the very things that hurt us and harm us the most.

Our ability to help others requires very little which we do not already have, most of it is choice and effort. For not only are we each capable of caring, we are also able to share that caring–to tell others how much we genuinely care for them, to show our love and concern, and to be there for them with an empathetic heart, a listening ear, and a supportive embrace.

Our care and concern for each other is what enriches our lives–our being kind to others not only impacts their lives in positive and fruitful ways, but also brings goodness and joy into our own. And the capacity to do so already exists in you and me. Perhaps it may require some learning, growing, developing, and understanding to put it into practice, and that is ok; for in doing so, we allow ourselves to give the wonderful gift of caring to those who may need it desperately–which just might be one of the greatest gifts that we can give to ourselves as well.

Allow yourself to feel deep care and concern for those in your life.

Questions to consider:

What are some of the reasons that we tend to hold back our caring?

What are the things and who are the people you care most about? Do you let that feeling of caring be known?

Why isn’t caring a more prominent subject of conversation and discussion in our culture?

For further thought:

“Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness.” ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner, When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough

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Be Grateful

“If you can’t be thankful for what you receive, be thankful for what you escape.” ~ unattributed, found in Little Gems of Wisdom by J.D. Kroft … 

It is easy for us to notice the things we have received–especially those things that are tangible and of value. It is also easy for us to give attention to the things we have not received but perhaps hoped for—our goals, dreams, and ambitions. However, it is much harder for us to keep in mind all those things from which we have escaped–harmful things, hurtful things, difficult things that would burden have burdened our hearts and minds–and to feel a deep sense of gratitude that we have been spared such suffering, that those things have not been a part of our lives.

And although our problems may outweigh the thankfulness within our minds at times and we may have great difficulty feeling a sense of gratitude for what we have–especially when it seems like it is not quite enough–if we are able to keep in mind the difficulties and obstacles that we have escaped, and feel a sense of appreciation for having avoided their presence, we can increase the positive and reduce the influence that those problems can have on our hearts and minds and in our lives.

Anything and everything can be seen through the eyes of thankfulness; this is such a wonderful blessing as we can never have too much gratitude in our lives. And once we begin to see things around us through this lens, even the pains and suffering, the difficulties and hardships, begin to have a deeper meaning and hold powerful potential for growth in our lives. Several years ago I experienced a major ankle injury that made it very difficult for me to run. As a result, I gained a valuable perspective on being thankful for the health and abilities that I possess, and the things I am blessed with in my life. The experience has also helped me to be more thankful for the things I have escaped. The fact that I do still have my legs and arms that give me the mobility to get around easily, and my eyes and ears that provide me with a priceless view of the beauty and sound here on this Earth, are all things to be immensely thankful for, and I try to remember to be grateful for these things as I awake each morning.

Having gratitude for the blessings in our lives is always a wonderful thing; and feeling grateful for the things we have avoided is equally powerful and uplifting–the fire, tornado, hurricane, or earthquake that did not destroy our house, the illnesses that we have not had, the difficulties and losses that we have been spared. There is an abundant amount of gratitude wrapped up in these things, much like a gift, if we will simply allow them to enter into our hearts and minds each day.

Take a moment to reflect with gratitude on some of the hardship, adversity, and suffering you have escaped in your life recently.

Questions to consider:

What kinds of things have not happened to you for which you can be grateful?

Why do we so rarely think about things that have not happened to us as things for which we should be thankful?

How might we remind ourselves of the things we have avoided?

For further thought:

“Even though we can’t have all we want, we ought to be thankful we don’t get what we deserve.” ~ unattributed, found in Celebrating Life – Moving Forward With Purpose by Tonya Merriweather Gipson

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Thankfulness Is A Virtue

“Keep a grateful journal. Every night, list five things that happened this day that you are grateful for. What it will begin to do is change your perspective of your day and your life. If you can learn to focus on what you have, you will always see that the universe is abundant; you will have more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.” ~ Oprah Winfrey … 

When we appreciate something in our lives it generally becomes easy for us to take that thing for granted simply because we tend to forget just how valuable it is to us and how much we appreciate it. Being the forgetful person that I am, I generally need constant reminders to keep focused on gratitude, for as the day passes by, and new challenges, tasks, and experiences present themselves, I tend to lose sight of many of the nice things from earlier. Yet when I take the time to remind myself that there are things in my life for which I am truly grateful–a daily routine, meditation, prayer, note, journal, or something that brings my focus on the blessings I have available to me right now–I recognize how rich my life is, even in the midst of all the noise, busyness, and confusion.

Another important aspect of the day is maintaining my focus and constantly being aware of when it begins to stray. By seeking to change my negative perspectives into more positive outlooks and attitudes, I keep a higher level of clarity in my life which paints a much more accurate picture of what is going right and helps me to better see the blessings even in the midst of the hurdles and difficulties. So often, we tend to get so focused on the bad things that a refreshing perspective–taking a moment to create a simple list of the goodness and beauty that is real and tangible in our lives–can be all that is necessary to spark positive change.

All that Oprah is suggesting here is an active engagement in our lives instead of the passive approach we so often fall back to. When we are content to simply let life pass us by, we live unaware of what is actually happening all around us–a form of merely existing and not living. But life rewards action, and our perspectives can only grow more abundant if we actively use them and expand them.

Life is made up of a series of todays. And the positive outlooks and attitudes we embrace can have just as much of an effect on the moments of our life as what actually happens in those moments. When we are able to change our perspective on the current day we are living, our perspective on life begins to shift as well, and we open ourselves up to new and exciting opportunities for growth and change, knowledge and understanding, and purpose and fulfillment.

Make a list of ten things that you are grateful for.

Questions to consider:

What kinds of things do you have in your life today for which you can be grateful if you choose to be?

How many positive things slip by us without our acknowledgment that they are, indeed, things for which to be grateful?

Why do so few of us take an active approach to our lives?

For further thought:

“Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that thankfulness is indeed virtue. Gratitude is something we very much need to show.” ~ William J. Bennett, Moral Compass

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Gratitude Breeds Success

“The people who are successful are those who are grateful for everything they have. . . . Giving thanks for what we have always opens the door for more to come, and ungratefulness always closes the door.” ~ Alan Cohen … 

In nearly every aspect of life, the more we put into things, the more we get out of them; the more we give, the more we get. This is in part a result of the law of attractions which states that we attract what we put out into the world–love begets more love, and forgiveness brings forth mercy, healing, and compassion. And when we bring joy into the lives of others, we find happiness ourselves. The same can be said, however, for the negative things we put out into the world, they bleed out into our own lives causing hurt, pain, and scars.

By showing gratitude, we “open the door for more to come,” for its power is multiplicative and far-reaching. And when we allow ourselves to feel thankful for the people, things, and situations in our lives, we acknowledge that we are indeed a blessing to us and that they are an important and meaningful part of our lives.

There will, of course, be times in our lives when things will not go how we had hoped or planned, and that is ok. For even during those difficult periods, there always are–and always will be–many positive aspects to our lives–our family, friends, career, possessions, health, living situations, activities, and so much more. We just have to allow ourselves to look beyond the negative and remain thankful and positive for all the blessings that are present. This gratitude keeps the door open for more positive things to enter in–our gratitude and appreciation set us up to receive those positive things, so that when they finally do come, we are ready to receive them.

Success is a by-product of gratefulness. This is perhaps one of the most beautiful realities of our lives, for once we begin to make active gratitude an important part of our day, we discover that we have opened the door to additional success, joy, love, happiness, and so much more for which we can be grateful.

Take the time to find authentic gratitude for the things in your life.

Questions to consider:

How do you see the relationship between gratitude and success?

Why do so many of us allow gratitude to take a back seat in our lives?

What do you have in your life right now for which you can be grateful, but for which you have not realized or shown that gratitude?

For further thought:

“A grateful mind is a great mind, which eventually attracts to itself great things.” ~ Plato

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Using Right Words To Express Yourself

“Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.” ~ Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha … 

In the busyness of life, I have noticed the “disconnect in communication with others” that Hermann is speaking of here. We depend so much upon words to express our desires and feelings, that rarely do we stop to consider just how ineffective they tend to be. Not only do the intentions of our words get misunderstood, but often times they create conflict in our lives or the lives of others, for the words we speak rarely capture the true feelings that we wish to convey, and more often than not, come across quite differently than we had intended them to.

Hermann is sharing with us some of his most treasured insight and observation on the powerlessness of using words alone to express our thoughts, and he would know, for he made a living writing words–crafting them carefully to create works like Siddhartha and Die Leiden des Jungen Werthers, one of the most influential books in German history. Here, we are gently reminded that the more we rely on our words to express our thoughts and feelings, the more we are going to realize just how limited they are and how poorly they express what is in our heart, mind, and soul, as the feelings we experience within are incredibly complex and our words often are not. In addition to this limitation, we also have to realize that the words we share with others are subject to their interpretations, which are not necessarily in line with what our thoughts and feelings are trying to convey.

Because of this, it is essential that we practice and develop our skill of using our words so that we can improve their effectiveness in properly expressing our thoughts and feelings. It is equally important that we become aware of the limitations that exist with the words we use so that we can choose words that accurately express our feelings and reflect our heart.

When speaking with others, take the time to properly fashion your responses to better express your thoughts and feelings.

Questions to consider:

How often have you been “betrayed” by your own words? How aware were you of the importance of those words before you used them?

Why do so few of us take our words more seriously, even after we have seen evidence of their limitations?

What does Hesse mean when he says that words “become a little different?”

For further thought:

“All our words are but crumbs that fall down from the feast of the mind.” ~ Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam

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The Deep Stillness Of Silence

“Truth does not reveal itself in the chatter of conversation, nor can it be coaxed to betray its secrets upon a printed page. Truth speaks only in the deep stillness of silence.” ~ Ananta Shanti dasa … 

Silence often speaks louder than words; and when it comes to speaking truth, this is all the more accurate. I have experienced such epiphanies in my own life, seeking in the “deep stillness” within the silent solitude of my heart. There were times when I felt broken and hopeless and let my guard down; and times when I felt the surreal and infinite beauty of life, and my heart was opened. And perhaps because these moments are rare in our lives, when they do happen upon us, we cannot help but stare in awesome wonder at the beauty of this truth.

In my own life, a few such apparent moments were the birth of each of my children or the death of my grandparents. In these times I could not help but come face to face with an understanding of the beauty in this world, of a deeper purpose and a greater meaning to my very existence, of my mortality and the grandeur of life. And then there were other times in which I actively sought out the company of silence, such as spiritual retreats, prayer, meditation, escaping into nature, and spending time putting my thoughts and feelings into words. Here I found a deeper truth in my relationship with God and strengthened my compassion and empathy towards those whom I care greatly for.

For many of us, truth is a relative term that takes on the meanings of our constantly changing realities–our jobs and professions, our friends and family, our neighbors and coworkers, our current situations and circumstances, our attitudes and beliefs. But there is a much deeper truth that courses throughout our lives–one that is constant, unchanging–and if we wish to hear it, we have to be willing to seek the deep stillness of silence, we have to be willing to think beyond yesterday’s sporting event or last night’s TV show.

The greater truths of life are waiting for us to come find them–to give them our undivided attention and listen to them with genuine consideration. Perhaps that means spending time enveloped by nature, or in the solitude of prayer in a quiet church. Maybe it means escaping to a hill some evening to gaze upon the stars. And in that deep and profound silence is our window to the amazing miracles that surround us, a chance for us to secure a glimpse of the bigger picture of life and the importance of just being alive as opposed to always doing. But we must be able to slow ourselves down–to clear our thoughts, free our bodies, release our feelings, hear our spirits, and simply let ourselves be and let the world be.

Spend some time in the compelling silence that surrounds you.

Questions to consider:

Why are we so obsessed with making noise and dispelling silence?

What kinds of truths have you seen or felt during your truly quiet times?

How can we go about finding moments of silence in our lives?

For further thought:

“This withdrawal from the day’s turmoil into creative silence is not a luxury, a fad, or a futility. It is a necessity, because it tries to provide the conditions wherein we are able to yield ourselves to intuitive leadings, promptings, warnings, teachings, and counsels and also to the inspiring peace of the soul. It dissolves mental tensions and heals negative emotions.” ~ Paul Brunton, (excerpt from The Notebooks of Paul Brunton)

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Thinking Creatively

“Creative thinking may simply mean the realization that there is no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done.” ~ Rudolph Flesch, in McDermott 2002 … 

Creative thinking does not require appreciation from others, nor does it have to be original or even innovative; to be creative at heart, all that is necessary is for us to allow our thoughts the opportunity to explore new paths, new ideas, and new ways of thinking about things. When we open ourselves up to the possibilities of traveling off the beaten path and living outside of the norm, creativity comes to us.

I really like the homemade bread I bake, but I do have to admit that if I were to make it differently, I might come up with a different mixture or blend that I like even more. There really is “no particular virtue” in the way I make it now–only that I like it and it works well. That does not mean, though, that I may not like other mixtures of flour, spices, or ingredients, however, I am typically not thinking creatively when I decide to make bread.

When we do the same things we have always done for the same reasons, expecting the same results, we stop thinking creatively and start living by rote. Of course, some things make sense for us to keep doing them the same way–I travel the same roads to work each day, for it saves on gas and time, so I am not going to change that. On the other hand, my employees has recently adopted a new development methodology, and as a result, I have had to make some changes to the ways I approach services delivery. This is a good thing, though, for it has allowed me to be more effective–to be creative and to grow instead of becoming stagnant and unchanging.

Within us, is the passion for being creative. Often times it gets educated out of us by society, by the expectations of work and school, and by the limits and boundaries that we place upon ourselves. Yet no matter what we are doing in life–athletes, musicians, salespeople, managers, programmers, teachers, doctors and nurses, and so much more, we all can be creative and artistic in our own ways. All that is required is for us to realize that there is no particular reason for continuing to do something in the same way that it has always been done.

Listen to your creative thoughts today.

Questions to consider:

How would you define creative thinking? Do you practice it?

In what ways might you be able to approach things that you do more creatively?

Other than safety or knowing that this way works, what is the value in continuing to do things the ways we always have done them?

For further thought:

“Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties.” ~ Erich Fromm, Man for Himself

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