Category Archives: Opinion

Keep Eyes “Open”

“Earth’s the right place for love; I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.” ~ Robert Frost, Birches … 

In reflecting upon Robert’s words, it helped me to read the entirety of his poem titled “Birches.” In it, he talks of swinging birch trees, of climbing them until the weight of the climber causes the tree to bend so far that the climber, if he or she were high enough, would be set back down upon the ground. He also mentions the importance to him of climbing the trees–to “get away from earth awhile,” but to “then come back to it and begin over” by being set back down upon the ground. And while the earth may sometimes seem like a difficult place to be–filled with pain, heartache, and obstacles that often pose as tremendous challenges to our resolve–it still remains a place of love, hope, joy, and purpose; a place that Robert prefers to experience even with those difficulties.

This world contains endless oceans of love within it. We may not always recognize this love, as often times we are not looking for it or are not expecting it in the places or the forms in which it visits us, but it is there. And when we experience it, and share it with those in our lives, we become an active contributor to the positive forces in this world. However, to do so effectively, we must also stay focused on both giving love and being receptive the to the love of others–letting them love us back.

By spending more time looking for love, we can help keep our focus on both giving and receiving it. This does not require searching for it as in a quest, but simply adopting a greater awareness of the love that surrounds us and then recognizing and appreciating it. The person who drops some money into a struggling man’s hat, the child who helps the elderly woman carry her groceries to her car, the peer who helps another with a project at school or work, the child who draws a picture and gifts it to a parent or lonely adult, the teen who offers to babysit for free because they know that the parents cannot afford to pay–in these and in so many other small, unnoticed acts lie the seeds of love; and these seeds so often go unnoticed by all of us.

Earth is a good place for love, for it is inhabited by divine creatures who, being created by a Being of perfect love, have a wonderful potential for love. And this truth becomes all the more apparent as we continue to open our eyes and hearts to see the love in our lives and conquer the fear that we feel to share it with those others.

Open your eyes and heart to the love all around you.

Questions to consider:

Why do so many people focus on what they perceive to be a lack of love, rather than on the presence of love and loving acts?

Why is love so important to us? If it is so important, then why do we not make it a major focus of our lives?

How might we go about making love a more central part of our lives?

For further thought:

“It is especially appropriate to say that the greatest command, the most condensed philosophy, the wisest business and success-achieving advice ever given was given by a man who was crucified. He summed it all up when he said, “Love one another.” . . . One really doesn’t need to fight for success. One can love one’s way toward success.” ~ Thomas Dreier, The Vagabond Trail

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We Have Duty

“We’ve got to work to save our children and do it with full respect for the fact that if we do not, no one else is going to do it.” ~ Dr. Dorothy I. Height … 

Perhaps may are asking yourself, “Save them from what?,” for as children they are sheltered from adult problems. Yet as adults, we often forget just how hard it was growing up–school, friendships, relationships, physical changes, and so much more that we are no longer concerned about as the dynamic of our lives has changed over the years. In addition, societal acceptance of adult situations and subject matter for younger children has blurred the boundaries of morality for many of our youth. And so it is imperative that we as parents, educators, guardians, and role models, task ourselves with saving our children from the multitudes of things that can corrupt the hearts and lead them down the wrong paths in life. We have a duty to help them understand the consequences of negative or addictive behaviors and how to instead foster and nurture healthy ones, to encourage them and build up their self-esteem and self-confidence instead of diminishing their spirit through insults, criticisms, and other disparaging remarks, and to always be authentic and not try to hide behind a mask or deceive others by being false or untrustworthy.

The fact of the matter is that most of the behaviors we have acquired over the years–positive, negative, and neutral–have been learned from our parents and from other adults. If the primary adults in our lives exhibit negative behaviors–physical abuse, mental and verbal abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, lack or caring, respect or nurturing, or any other form of violence or any other deprivation of basic needs–we will grow up believing that the world is a place to be feared, that lack is a way of life, that anyone who challenges us or disagrees with us must be put in their place. But if we are shown positive and nurturing behaviors such as compassion and love, mercy and forgiveness, kindness and gentleness, generosity and gratitude, fortitude and integrity, acceptance and empathy, we will grow with hearts filled with love that will pour forth into the lives of those around us.

Positive change in this world begins with the children–with nurturing them, providing them with love, and teaching them about love, respect, and authenticity. As fellow humans on this journey through life, we must recognize them as our brothers and sisters, showing them patience and empathy, offering them mercy and forgiveness, and treating them with respect and dignity–celebrating the unique soul they harbor within. And if I desire to contribute to this change, I must start by instilling positive traits into our future generations, and not negative ones, for our children need us for encouragement, for love, to act as strong role models who are willing to share our lives and our thoughts with them. As Father Flanagan, founder of Boys Town said, “There are no bad boys. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example, bad thinking.” Which will I choose to offer?

Make a positive impact in the life of a child.

Questions to consider:

Why is it so easy to keep out of our minds just what is happening to the children in our world?

Why do so few parents seem to understand what it takes to be effective parents?

How was your life when you were growing up? If it was good, are you sharing that same kind of life with some kids? If it was bad, are you trying to help some kids avoid that kind of life?

For further thought:

“If we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on real war against war, we shall have to begin with children.” ~ Mohandas Gandhi, The Wit and Wisdom of Gandhi

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Be Conscious Of What You Say And Do

“What we say and what we do ultimately come back to us, so let us own our responsibility, place it in our hands, and carry it with dignity and strength.” ~ Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua, Speaking in Tongues … 

At some point in our lives, we are each faced with the task of “growing up” and accepting responsibility for our words and actions. A lot of individuals seem much less aware of this fact than others, or at least they have found ways to keep it out of mind and not let it bother them, but we still remain one-hundred percent responsible for our actions. And on top of that, so much of what we do and say will come back to us at some juncture in our lives, often when we are least prepared. And when it does, those who cannot accept this responsibility often attribute the problems the experience outwardly to other people and things, or to environments and circumstances, or even chalk it up to chance–perhaps due somewhat to how difficult and painful it is for us to see ourselves as the cause of our own troubles and grief.

Many see this simply as an extension of Karma–that the type of person we are, the type of choices we make, come full circle in the end. And the beauty in such a basic understanding of life is that it empowers us with ownership of our responsibilities–as long as we are aware of our actions and their potential effects, we can make positive and healthy choices and live up to our responsibilities and duties in much more natural and effortless ways.

I have personally come to accept the responsibility of making sure that everything that I say and do is something that I would actually want coming back to me. I view it as a part of the integrity of my character; after all, others base a large portion of their views of me on this criterion. And in addition, being able to accept this responsibility is a sign of wisdom and maturity–it is the point in which we come to terms with the realization that our decisions cause both our rewards and our consequences.

There is no substitute for taking full responsibility for our own actions, words, and deeds. And the more we do so, the more we begin to see how “what we say and do comes back to us” and the easier it becomes to make the right decisions when we are faced with them.

Be conscious of what you say and do–knowing full well that responsibility falls on you and you alone.

Questions to consider:

Why is it easy sometimes to say and do things without realizing that they will come back to us someday, somehow?

What does it mean to you to “own” your responsibility?

When was the last time that something that you said or did came back to you, in either a positive or negative way? How did that feel?

For further thought:

“Character–the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s own life–is the source from which self-respect springs.” ~ Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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Uncover More Growth For Yourself

“Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.” ~ Georgia O’Keeffe, from her 1976 autobiography Georgia O’Keeffe … 

We all have our histories that can be easy to get caught up in, however, we are not our past selves–we are who we are right here and now. It is true that the person we once were adds many elements and characteristics to us, just as the many hues, brush strokes, and canvases upon which artists paint, add depth, style, and meaning to their work. But it is not the colors, patterns, and mediums that we should be captivated by… it is what we have done with those things–the masterpiece that lies before us–that should fascinate us and speak to our souls.

Although our past has very little to add to our life experiences today, we often talk about these things in lieu of their results. But it is the effects, not the causes, that define who we are as a person and where we are at this specific juncture in lives. It is, of course, important that we put forth some effort to maintain the past–relationships, skills and abilities, knowledge and understanding, and anything that adds value to our lives or invokes a sense of pride that serves as a reminder of what is wholesome and good–but we must never do so at the sake of fulfilling all that is required of us and completing our necessary tasks at hand.

Our history is a part of us, and always will be. But when we attempt to spend our present moments in the past, we relegate ourselves to mere bystanders. Live fully in the here and now. Remember that who you are in life, and who you are becoming, depends entirely on how you use the experiences that you have gained from your past. Did you learn and grow from them, allowing them to expand your horizons and better yourself?

Reflect on past experiences to find potential areas in which you might uncover growth and learning.

Questions to consider:

Why do we seem not to focus on what we have become through our past experiences, and what we might become from our future experiences?

What have been some of the most influential experiences in your life? How have they affected your life?

How can the places you have lived have positive effects on your life?

For further thought:

“It does not matter where you have been. What matters is who you have become. Who you are. Here. Now.” ~ unattributed

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Life Of Action, Not Reaction

“A life of reaction is a life of slavery, intellectually and spiritually. One must fight for a life of action, not reaction.” ~ Rita Mae Brown … 

Far too many individuals fall victim to believing that they are living free lives, but in reality, are allowing themselves to be slaves to the world around them by not living a life of action. A life of reaction implies that our actions are determined by the prior action directed towards us–by an outside force. And if we live our lives in such a way–failing to ever initiate action–then we are servants to reacting to whatever life brings our way, and much of who we are becoming–intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, is being determined by others and the world.

So what many of us need is a wake-up call, some helpful encouragement and advice, and perhaps a good role model to provide us with direction and inspire us to act. Wake-up calls, encouragement, and advice are generally there, but we have to be receptive. And there are often relatively few individuals in our lives who are consistent actors as opposed to reactors, however, it is vital that we seek them out and surround ourselves with them. Such individuals can teach us the importance of learning to overcome our propensity for letting others determine our actions in life; they can instruct us in how to determine our own attitudes, feelings, moods, and not let others derail our happiness with their negativity, or divert our focus with their actions and words.

It is the duty of each of us to take the initiative to inspire action, both of ourselves and of those around us. If someone insults us, it is up to us to maintain our dignity and character and not give substance to their empty words by allowing them to bring us down. And if adversity and hardship come knocking on our door, it is our responsibility to keep our head up and react to in a positive manner. When I really get to thinking about what it means to react instead of act, it is clear that there is something fundamentally wrong with such an approach–in reacting, we give the upper hand to others–the power to push us in directions that we may not want to go, or should not go.

Each moment we are here is a chance to live our lives authentically. But we must be proactive, not reactive; for while the first empowers us to be the captains of our lives–charting our courses, determining our directions, and sailing our vessels wherever we desire to be–the latter leaves us at the mercy of the oceans of life, to be buffeted by the winds of chance and tossed about on the stormy seas.

Act in ways that will be a positive influence in your life.

Questions to consider:

How do we fall into the pattern of reacting instead of acting?

How can a life of reacting be a life of slavery?

What kinds of actions can you take today that will be positive influences on the life you lead?

For further thought:

“You don’t reward reaction; you reward results.” ~ Edwin Louis Cole, Maximized Manhood

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The Satisfaction Of Doing One’s Best

“I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.” ~ Diane Ackerman … 

Often in life, we get so caught up with our destinations that we forget about the journey; and sometimes we simply forget to look around us as we travel down our paths–looking forward instead of seeing all the beautiful countryside, creatures, people, and scenery that surrounds us along the way. In truth, many of us live our lives as if it we’re a straight road from birth to death; and unfortunately they often live it that way too, trying to get to quickly get to the next destination–graduating high school, receiving the college degree, obtaining the new job or raise, getting married, starting a family, sending the child to school, waiting for the child to become an adult and move out, working on retirement, and so forth on down the line. But if we never remember to stop and look around–seeing those important people and things and experiencing those precious moments–we may one day discover ourselves at the destination we were seeking, yet still find ourselves looking back at the journey with regret, feeling perhaps like something is missing.

Everywhere I look I see life that is begging me to explore it, to experience it, to interact with it in ways that invoke joy and happiness and create wonderful memories, and it is from there that I will discover the beauty of life. There, just off the road, is where the amazing and the unforeseen unfolds, where fun and enjoyment ensue, where interesting conversations and scary adventures take place, where new people, places, and things come into our lives and change us in meaningful and powerful ways. It is on these side roads and untraveled paths that we will find clarity and come to define our purpose as something much greater than just another set of footprints on the road most traveled.

The decisions that you and I make today will largely determine our overall experience in life. Even in this very moment, we are creating lives for ourselves that we will look back on once we reach our destinations. And when we arrive at that end, the reasons for those decisions will surely seem less important than when we had originally made them.

It is the “width” of our life that enriches our time here on Earth; whether or not we decide to take risks from time to time and depart from the road to play, to learn, to grow, and to really live our lives deeply. Chances are that when we reach the end of our lives we will look back at all the opportunities that we have taken to live the width of our lives and realize that it was those moments that provided us with the kind of memories that bring us priceless satisfaction and joy.

Enjoy each moment of the day–live them to their fullest.

Questions to consider:

Do you live the width of your life? How might you do so?

How do you see the width of your life? What is it composed of?

Why do so many people stay so glued to the direct route on the straight and narrow road, seeming to look neither to the right nor the left?

For further thought:

“There is no fun equal to the satisfaction of doing one’s best. The things that are most worthwhile in life are really those within the reach of almost every normal human being who cares to seek them out.” ~ Bertie Charles Forbes

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Transitory Nature Of Life

“You never conquer a mountain. You stand on the summit a few moments; then the wind blows your footprints away.” ~ Arlene Blum, Breaking Trail … 

There is a transitory nature to life–everything has a beginning and an end, nothing lasts forever. And even our greatest successes, most cherished accolades, and most celebrated accomplishments will pass from our present moments. We often think that we have made a lasting impression on things in life, but in reality, we have only made temporary ones that will not last forever–and this is perfectly ok, for we are impermanent fixtures in this world that we’re only meant to dwell here for a single lifetime.

In truth, we do not conquer objects such as mountains–perhaps we conquer our fears of climbing them, or our limitations or preconceived notions of them, but we cannot actually “conquer” a mountain. And this deeper understanding of our temporary condition of living allows us to discover the significance of having dreams and desires, setting goals, and overcoming adversity and hardships in our lives. But we have to be able to let go of the need to always conquer, to battle against people and things and always come out the victor. So much of life is about harmony–about letting go of the desire to compete, of cooperating with those around us, of working with the things we have available to us and enjoying their presence in our lives; and the journey through life is often much more pleasant and fulfilling when we can enjoy what the “mountains” have to offer us: beauty and insight to deepen our connection with life, challenges and obstacles to inject vitality into our souls and help us grow stronger, and experiences and memories that help remind us of our purpose in life–of why we are on this planet.

Even if we only get to stand on the peak for a brief moment in time, or we do not make it to the peak at all, we can still grow, gain from the experience, and become a better version of ourselves than we were yesterday. And to be honest, it really does us little good to think in terms of “conquering” anything in life, as that alone, does not necessarily promote growth. Perhaps what might help even more is for us to try to wipe away our tracks once we have climbed the mountain and leave no mention of our being there. After all, the growth is in the journey and the experience, not in letting others know what we have done.

Find acceptance with the transitory nature of life.

Questions to consider:

Why do we use so many words like “conquer” in our vocabulary? Are those words accurate?

From where do we get the urge to “defeat” and subjugate? Why is it important to us to have the sense of having defeated someone or something?

Is it a negative thing that the “wind blows your footprints away?”

For further thought:

“Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” ~ Anatoli Boukreev, Above the Clouds: The Diaries of a High-Altitude Mountaineer

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