Monthly Archives: April 2017

Your Life, Your Garden

“If we make our goal to live a life of compassion and unconditional love, then the world will indeed become a garden where all kinds of flowers can bloom and grow.” ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross … 

Gardens are such beautiful places to experience the joy, the depth, and the miracles of life. Here, in the lovely colors and scents of the blooms, or the nourishing produce of the fruits and vegetables, we can witness growth and purpose, sharing and abundance, absorption and completion, determination and patience, and so much more. And as I read Elisabeth’s words here, I have to ask myself, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world around me were to become such a garden?” If my life and the life of those around me, those I love and care about, where filled with growth, beauty, wonder, nourishment, abundance, and purpose–all of which require love and compassion from me. For without these two qualities, shared generously and unconditionally, life will never be the garden that it has the potential to be; not for me and not for the lives of those I affect around me.

If we want our world to become a garden, the first thing we must do is to “make our goal to live a life of love and compassion.” As Elisabeth points out, a beautiful world for us does not just happen; it requires vision and focus to see it, and it takes commitment and effort to create it, to form it, to develop it, and to push it to its extraordinary limits. If our goal is to be loving and compassionate, then we must come to a point in which we naturally commit loving and compassionate actions. Then, through those actions, we can make our lives extraordinary and contribute amazing things to the lives of others–as long as we expect anything in return for our actions.

We choose the garden of our lives; for we are the gardeners–we control what we plant in them and we then decide how we will tend to those things. So what kind of garden will your life be: a lush one that is well tended to, with beautiful, healthy flowers and plants, or a dry and barren one full of weeds? Will you give just the bare minimum required food, water, and care to your garden, or will you help it to grow and thrive?

Take time to tend to the garden of life growing around you.

Questions to consider:

Why is it important to share the love and compassion that is within us with others?

What can you do today to make the garden of your life flourish?

How often do you share–actively share–your compassion and unconditional love with others?

For further thought:

“We’re all assigned a piece of garden, a corner of the universe that is ours to transform. Our corner of the universe is our own life–our relationships, our homes, our work, our current circumstances–exactly as they are. Every situation we find ourselves in is an opportunity, perfectly planned by the Holy Spirit, to teach love instead of fear.”‘~ Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

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Focus On Your Blessings

“Reflect upon your present blessings–of which every man has plenty–not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” ~ Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz … 

Charles was a very optimistic person, as we can see here. We all have countless blessings in our lives, even at this very moment. And many of them pass by unnoticed because we are so narrowly focused on life. However, if we were to approach everything in our lives with appreciation first, allowing gratitude to be the glasses through which we see life and giving thanks for all that we have been blessed with, we would be filled, teeming, and overflowing with so much joy–for the normal would appear as it truly is… miraculous.

If we were to take several minutes to write down a list of people, things, situations, and occurrences in our lives that are positive and uplifting to us, those blessings would far outweigh the misfortunes we have experienced, and they would also outweigh the difficulties and hardships that are currently weighing upon our shoulders. And yet we so often allow ourselves to get drawn into pessimistic lines of thought–thinking of our past misfortunes–and our minds become occupied in the present moment with negative thoughts and ideas that fill our hearts with negative emotions. This, of course, makes it impossible for us to be completely present, with gratitude and joy, in the here and now.

The fact is that we always have the choice to decide how we wish to see the world–through the negative lens of past misfortunes, or the positive lens of present blessings. And the more we choose to stay focused on the latter, the more the blessings will continue to flow into our lives.

Misfortune is a part of life. But when it visits, we do not have to invite into our homes, allowing it to keep us company for much longer than is necessary. By continuing to focus on past misfortunes, we carry them as excess baggage in our lives, neglecting the positive that is right there in front of us. If, however, we let go of those misfortunes, leaving them in the past where they belong, we can focus on the positives in our lives and become more aware of the unending stream of blessings that are constantly flowing into our lives.

Focus today on the numerous blessings you have right here and now.

Questions to consider:

Why is it so easy for so many people to stay focused on past misfortune? What good does it do them?

How many blessings do you have in your life right now?

How might we go about keeping our minds on our blessings?

For further thought:

“Let go. Why do you cling to pain? There is nothing you can do about the wrongs of yesterday. It is not yours to judge. Why hold on to the very thing which keeps you from hope and love?” ~ Leo Buscaglia

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Listen To Your Conscience

“The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird … 

So often in our cultures and societies, we see others doing things that they know are wrong and should not be doing, just to fit in, be accepted, or because they feel that others expect them to do those things. But this is a perilous gamble, as each of our moral compasses can only guide our vessels, and not the vessels of our fellow man. This means that if we let the input of others affect our conscience decisions, we put our own internal peace and serenity at grave risk. And one of the scariest realities about this is that when we are dealing with our internal conflicts, often times we allow ourselves to justify what we have done by adjusting our consciences to make the action okay; not to mention that many of those times we are not even aware that we are rationalizing our decisions to make them seem acceptable even though deep down we know that they are not. But there is no gray area when it comes to our consciences, or at least there should not be.

When we really get to looking at it, our consciences are not something that we can adjust or change, and ignoring them only leaves us feeling confused, uncertain, and lost. And in the end, no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves that something that we know is wrong, is actually right, we will not be able to change the feelings of remorse, guilt, and shame that stain our hearts from acting against our conscience.

So why is it so hard for us to follow our conscience? We know it guides us and keeps us on the path of righteousness, and that it helps us to live our lives with a deep sense of peace and joy, yet we often continue to seek to ignore the truth it speaks. Perhaps it is a result of the influence of our peers, or our fear of change or of stepping outside of the safety of what we know. Maybe it is the uncertainty of the unknown, or inability to see the larger picture in life. However, regardless of what pressure we are faced with or difficulties we perceive, the final choice of whether or not to follow our conscience lies on us, and the final decision to accept what it tells us lies with us as well.

Do not silence the silent voice within you that speaks to you by convincing yourself that you must think or act contrary to what your heart tells you because others think or act in such a way, or that since you have already done wrong, doing so again will have zero net effect. Our conscience should never abide by majority rule; as singular beings, we are responsible for ourselves–no one else has to answer for our decisions. Therefore, we should not question whether we are thinking or acting differently, but rather whether or not we are following what we know in our heart and soul to be true and right.

Take some time to really listen to what your conscience has to say to.

Questions to consider:

What are some of the pressures that weigh against us following our consciences?

Why is it so easy sometimes to just go with the flow and do what everyone else is doing, whether we agree with it or not?

How might you be sure that you keep yourself open to the messages that your conscience is sending you?

For further thought:

“Conscience, as a mentor, the guide and compass of every act, leads ever to happiness. When the individual can stay alone with his or her conscience and get its approval, without knowing force or specious knowledge, then he or she begins to know what real happiness is.” ~ William George Jordan, The Majesty of Calmness

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Live Your “Finest Human Qualities”

“The world will never have lasting peace so long as men reserve for war the finest human qualities. Peace, no less than war, requires idealism and self-sacrifice and a righteous and dynamic faith.” ~ John Foster Dulles … 

One need not look far to realize that the world spends a lot of money on war. Each year, countries set aside trillions of dollars on defense budgets–weapons and ammunitions, enhancements, training, research, maintenance, and other such related military spending. If you really think about it, a lot of time, effort, energy, and money gets spent on things that are intended to harm our fellow human beings. And why? Because we are afraid that we will be vulnerable to attack if we do not, or that we may be forced to live our lives in ways that others want us to? But what would happen if we instead were to spend the same amount of money, time, and effort pursuing peace?

Of course, there are those in this world with evil intentions, filled with malice and hate, and we should look to protect ourselves from such men. However, I might also argue that the most effective way to fight the evils of this world are with our “finest of human qualities,” and John challenges us here to do just that, to put our finest human qualities–peace, idealism, self-sacrifice, courage, perseverance, dedication, hard work, focus on accomplishment, mercy, forgiveness, and brotherhood–to work on lasting peace, regardless of the intentions of others. If we were to put these things into practice each day in our relationships, our communities, and our circles of influence, who knows just what we might be able to accomplish.

When we allow ourselves to tap into our reserves of qualities that are among the best we have, nearly everything is possible. We often see this in our lives when our survival instincts are stimulated–when our lives are in jeopardy or we are faced with tremendous difficulties and hardships. And yet it is unfortunate that we so often relegate these qualities to times of crisis and wait until adversity strikes to reach within ourselves to find these strengths. For they are strengths that could contribute greatly towards peace, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion, in our families and communities–if only we were to apply them whenever they are needed, and not just in times of crisis.

Come up with a list of your “finest human qualities” and some ways in which you might better exhibit them in your daily life.

Questions to consider:

Why do so many people not tap into their finest qualities every day in order to work towards lasting peace?

What does “lasting peace” mean to you? Is it just a pipe dream, or is it a possibility?

Who is responsible for lasting peace in our world? Is it just the leaders, or are more of us actually responsible for contributing to it?

For further thought:

“The way to mend the bad world, is to create the right world. . . . The real and lasting victories are those of peace, and not of war.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and English Traits

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Bad Temper

“The finest spirits, the most exquisite wines, the nectars and ambrosias of modern tables, will be all spoilt by a few drops of bitter extract; and a bad temper has the same effect in life, which is made up, not of great sacrifices or duties, but of little things, in which smiles and kindness, and small obligations given habitually, are what win and preserve the heart, and secure comfort.” ~ Sir Humphry Davy, The Collected Works of Sir Humphry Davy … 

When I came home from work the other day, I was met by my daughter who came running around the corner wearing a Johnny Appleseed hat that she had made in school. Now I could tell that she was proud of it and was anxious to show it off to me, so I asked her about it and offered her some constructive compliments and praise about how awesome it was, which got her smiling and all giddy. She exclaimed, “Ya, I know, isn’t it cool! We learned all about him in school today… and about apples!” Her smile… her excitement… the fact that something I did brightened her day–all of this made my day all the more joyful, meaningful, and worthwhile.

A similar thing happened to me several years ago when I was in the hospital for surgery–I remember this little girl, who was there visiting someone else with her parents, who was looking at me from across the room. As I was looking at her, our eyes met, and I smiled and waved. She shot a big smile back my way as if to let me know that she was relieved that I was not in any pain. In a sense, it was as if we each shared a little peace, love, and joy from our hearts with one another, and in that instant, recognized both the humanity and divinity that we carried within. Over the years, so many things that I have thought might be very important to me have fallen to the wayside and are no longer in my mind, but these memories, well, I still carry them with me–I still can see her smile and feel her delight.

Throughout the course of my life, it has been my experience that the more smiles, hugs, compliments, kindness, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and love I give to others, the more I receive back–making me equally blessed by my gifts. And it is through that giving of myself, in which a lasting impression upon my soul is left–the things that have touched my heart are the things that stay with me, that keep me constantly aware of how positive life is, how powerful a simple smile can prove to be.

If I had to choose only one memory from my life, I would pick one of those smiles, one of those defining moments, over nearly any of the awards, recognition, and praise I have received throughout my lifetime so far. Perhaps the smile of my wife at our wedding, the moment I first met each of my children, the silent time I shared with a grieving friend–I would choose each of these, any day, over the cheering crowd of spectators during the championship high school football game I played in, or my first taekwondo medal I received as a young boy. Life is filled with simple, deep moments; and if we can truly appreciate the depth and beauty of them, the rest of our journey becomes richer and much more pleasant.

Take time today to appreciate the little things in life that bring you comfort and joy.

Questions to consider:

Why do we tend to undervalue the simple kindnesses that others show us?

What to you is the best part of a shared smile or a simple kindness?

Do you search out opportunities to share smiles and simple kindnesses of your own?

For further thought:

“What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity. These are but trifles, to be sure; but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.” ~ Joseph Addison

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The Real “Deep Thinking”

“Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.” ~ George Bernard Shaw … 

By most of our definitions of thinking, George seems to claim a logical contradiction here: how is it possible that the majority of humans do not think but a few times a year when most everything we do requires thought? And yet George is not far from the truth, for true thinking is indeed rare–rather than think on our own, we tend to react with our thoughts; rather than ponder concepts and ideas carefully, we tend to skim over them with our first reactions and not take the time to think our ways through to the core of the matters at hand.

When it comes to deep thinking, most of us barely scratch the surface of even a single topic, much less spread our thoughts out over the breadth of all the subject matter that is available to us. If we were to ask ourselves truthfully, “How often do we deliberately seek to analyze and ruminate on complex subject matter, create or restructure thoughts and materials, or reach value judgements based on our moral principles and divine nature?,” most of us would probably answer with a humbling, “Not enough.” And perhaps that is a symptom of the culture and society that we live in. For many of us, because we have things we would like to be doing, a lot of the tasks and work we commit ourselves to requires little effort. And similarly, most of our relationships with one another are given the minimal amount of effort to maintain them. So when it comes to thinking about things deeply, it really is no surprise that we would instead tend to think about them superficially because there are so many other things we would rather be doing or that need our attention.

Some of this world’s best and brightest individuals are those who are able to spend time in the company of deep thought, who consistently give their undivided attention to learning, studying, understanding, and growing. And although these individuals are willing to put forth the time and effort necessary to think deeply about things, most likely that was not always the case, and was instead an acquired skill that each of us has the ability to learn. But we have to be willing to make the time in our busy schedules to truly exercise our minds, and make the effort to do so clearly and fully by removing outside noises and silencing the multitudes of other thoughts racing through our minds as we go about our days–something that can add a beautiful dimension to our lives and really enrich who we are.

Take some time today to focus your attention on one thing, considering it from different angles and perspectives.

Questions to consider:

How would you define truly thinking? How often do you participate in that activity?

Why do we tend to get caught up in our racing thoughts, unable to slow them down or control them?

What are some ways that you can practice thinking at a different level than you think now?

For further thought:

“Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.” ~ Thomas A. Edison, The Diary and Sundry Observations of Thomas Alva Edison

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Offer Encouragement

“Creativity is so delicate a flower that praise tends to make it bloom, while discouragement often nips it in the bud. Any of us will put out more and better ideas if our efforts are appreciated.” ~ Alex F. Osborn, Your Creative Power … 

Praise is one of the most powerful and effective motivators in life. It is fertile soil for the soul; solid ground into which we can extend our roots to help us weather the storms of life. When we encourage others, we foster creativity, but when we discourage them, we destroy it. And yet, even with this understanding, others cannot help us much if we are simply waiting around for their encouragement and praise. Doing so will most likely leave us feeling discouraged and depressed over time as we are placing a dependence on external catalysts for our happiness in life. And that is why it is incredibly important for us to be aware of the encouragement and praise we are giving to others in our lives, and the positive effects we have on them, especially children, who are at a very impressionable stage of their lives.

And there may be times in which we do not like the creative things others have done, and that is ok. I do not like asparagus or sushi, but that is my own personal choice and that choice does not have to affect others, not to mention that just because I do not like something does not mean that it is not good or worthy of praise or respect. We can still put our likes and dislikes aside and try to focus on building others up for something that is important to them, something that they spent great time and effort creating, for we always have the choice between encouraging and building others up, or discouraging and tearing them down.

The encouragement we give to others is nourishment for their delicate flower of creativity; it is life-giving and supportive, contributing directly to the building and fostering of authenticity, imaginativeness, and creativity in this world. For whenever a person reaches within and takes the risk necessary to create something positive and uplifting, the world becomes richer simply as a byproduct of the creative work of that individual. And the beautiful thing about this is that we all can contribute simply by giving others praise for their creative efforts.

Offer encouragement and praise to others for their creative effort.

Questions to consider:

How do we tend to respond when we do not like something, even if we recognize the creativity and talent behind it?

Why is praise so important for so many of us?

What kinds of praise do you most like to hear? Do you give that same kind of praise to others?

For further thought:

“Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement–and we will make the goal.” ~ Jerome P. Fleishman

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