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Be Happy

“What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” ~ W.H. Davies …

What a miraculous world we live in. Each moment we are alive is filled with so much beauty and wonder–all we have to do is choose to see it, to let ourselves become painfully aware of just how blessed we truly are. The cold glass of water on a hot summer day; the hot bath or shower after a hard day’s work; the help and compassion of someone who cares; the comforting embrace of someone you love. When we slow down and allow ourselves the opportunity to truly experience the life we are living, the ordinary becomes rather extraordinary.

The following is a famous Washington Post experiment revealing just how much beauty we may miss in our rush through life.

On a chilly Friday morning in January–in the middle of rush hour at a D.C. metro station–world renowned violinist Joshua Bell participated in a staged experiment to see how hurried commuters would respond to encountering exquisite classical music played on an 18th century violin, by (unbeknownst to them) one of the finest classical musicians in the world. Would beauty transcend?

During the 43 minutes that Bell performed (in street clothes and a ball cap), 1,097 people passed by his location. While a few individuals eventually paused to listen more closely for a few moments, not once did Bell draw a crowd. A former child prodigy who filled concert halls in the week leading up to the experiment and whose performance time can command as much as $1,000 a minute, Bell counted a total of $32.17 in his violin case at the end of his performance! Each passerby on that Friday morning was presented with a choice: to stop and listen, or to hurry on past to their morning destination. Which would you choose?

Take a moment to become aware of the life you are living.

Questions to consider:

Why might people be willing to ignore a musician playing something quite beautiful?

How often do you stop to enjoy everyday things in your life?

What are some ways you could increase your awareness with the many different aspects of your life?

For further thought:

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” ~ Omar Khayyam

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Gentleness

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing is so gentle as real strength.” ~ Saint Francis de Sales …

People usually associate power with the ability to exert your will and control upon something, as if the most important attribute for success is brute force. This misperception is incorrect, however, and often leads to friction and strife, wasted energy and potential, and resentment and lack of cooperation that generally will not produce the desired results.

It does not take a hammer to wear away at stones. Tiny drops of water, that are held together through a weak cohesive bond, are able accomplish some of the most remarkable feats, such as the creation of the “Grand Canyon” and “The Old Man of Hoy.” Some of the most powerful drills in the world use high-pressure water to cut through materials that even metal is unable to cut through. Water–the same stuff we swim through and bathe in–can pierce granite and go straight through a foot of cast iron. And we can see similar effects from wind in the Navajo sandstone rocks of Arizona, or between our dealings with one another.

It takes much effort and force to bend people and things to our will, and the results of such effort generally are not very positive. However, with gentleness, we can encourage and cultivate the strength in others to join with ours and greatly increase the chances of a positive outcome. With persistence and dedication, gentleness can accomplish what brute force cannot. “The waters wear the stones; the floods thereof wash away the dust of the earth.” Job 14:19

Apply gentleness when dealing with others today.

Questions to consider:

How often do you apply gentleness in your life?

Do you ever get frustrated when you do not see the results of the things that you try to accomplish? Where does that frustration come from?

What are some ways you can let go of the desire to control the outcomes in your life?

For further thought:

“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins–not through strength but by perseverance.” ~ H. Jackson Brown

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An Optimist

“Aerodynamically, the bumble bee shouldn’t be able to fly, but the bumble bee doesn’t know it so it goes on flying anyway.” ~ Mary Kay Ash …

How often do we hold ourselves back from becoming all that we could be–all that we were intended to be? How often do our attitudes and disbeliefs fuel the very fires of negativity in our lives that are clouding our ability to see the opportunity that sits right before us with thick, black smoke? Our perspectives, attitudes, and ways of thinking determine so much of our experiences of life–the more positive we are, the more positive our lives become; the more negative we are, the more our inadequacies move to the center of our focus and the more miserable our lives begin to grow.

Often times, we are the only obstacle that stands in the way of realizing our fulfillment and our potential. We convince ourselves that there is something that we cannot do or will never be able to accomplish, or we embrace the mistaken conclusions and the ideals of others as our own beliefs and accept them as truths. I am aware of such a time in my own life, a time in which I convinced myself that surely I was unlovable as a result of the heartache I felt of opening up and being rejected by an individual. This caused me to question my own self-worth, leaving me feeling confused and in a perpetual state of despair that caused me to isolate myself on an island of negativity.

Some of the most beneficial changes I have made in life have been changes in the ways that I think. And although it is something I have to continually work at, the more I am able to reject negative thoughts and focus on the all of the positive potential I can create in the world around me, the more strength I find available to me–a strength, that much like the bumble bee, allows me to accomplish the impossible and keeps me from falling into negativity.

The healing powers of positive thoughts have been well documented by medical professionals and psychologists throughout our history. Ailments are lessened, recovery time is shortened, and chronic or debilitating illnesses are mastered through absolute will, determination, and resolve. Positive thinking really does change the actual makeup of our brains in a very physical way; the science is called neuroplasticity–which essentially means our thoughts can change the structure and function of our brains. It has been shown that the more we practice positive thinking, the more it causes our brain to strengthen and rewire areas of the brain that stimulate positive feelings.

Each day we are able to focus on the positive, we increase our ability to feel happiness and to live our lives much more fully. And the more we are able to focus on the positive in life, the more able we are to overcome the obstacles and difficulties we face in life.

Focus on what you CAN do today… which is virtually anything.

Questions to consider:

How can we stay focused on our potential in life?

How do negative thoughts become so predominant in our lives?

What are some potential benefits of seeing the world through positive thinking?

For further thought:

“An optimist is someone who goes after Moby Dick in a rowboat and takes the tartar sauce with him.” ~ Zig Ziglar

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Put Forth Your Best Effort In All You Do

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” ~ Michael Jordan …

My failures are not something that I need be ashamed of. As Michael points out… we all “fail at something.” What matters is that we took a chance, that we tried our best. Not giving it my best effort… now that is something I would feel ashamed of.

Even though there are many things in life that we can predict with a high degree of accuracy, there are plenty more that we will be wrong about. Every year, thousands of things fail–startup ventures close shop, athletes are cut from teams because they are not quite good enough, relationships end, banks foreclose on houses, sales on products fail to cover costs. Failure is a potential outcome for us. And if we learn to accept that as ok, we can move past the failure to growth. Additionally, we can begin to plan for the possibility of failure, so that we are not caught off-guard or left in a bad situation.

As an athlete, Michael knows quite intimately that life is not about winning–it is about trying and learning from the effort. Many people win medals in the Olympic Games, but many more go home without gold, silver, or bronze. But their goals have brought them to the possibility of at least competing in the Olympic Games, putting them among the very elite athletes in the world at their respective sport.

Doing our best is what truly matters in life–win or lose.

Put forth your best effort in all you do today.

Questions to consider:

Think of a risk you recently took in which you failed. What did you lose? What did you gain? Was it worth it?

What are some things you might fail at? Does the possibility keep you from trying?

How do most people react when someone fails at something they have tried?

For further thought:

“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.” ~ Henry Ford

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Daily Renewal

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi …

We generally think of death as something bad, something that carries with it pain, grief, suffering, loss, anger, and a number of other emotions. But death is a necessary part of growth and life; a cycle of passing on, of leaving space and better conditions for the next generation. Farmers and gardeners understand this truth quite well. They see the importance of letting the remains of the harvest rest throughout the winter, of letting the soil replenish with the nutrients that keep it vibrant and able to sustain life.

We too must be able “die” to our old self from time to time. It is a necessary part of our growth, of becoming something new. It is through this ability to let go and be “reborn,” that we are able replenish our spiritual reserves. It is here where our power and potential is recognized.

Letting go can be difficult. Perhaps we fear change or growth–after all, growing older seems so final. But growth and change are natural. And we, like the farmers, need to harvest our fields each season; we need to allow the soil time to rest and replenish; we need to plant anew and give to the crops nourishment and care.

Imagine the you from yesterday has passed through the night, and the you of today is a whole new person.

Questions to consider:

Do you know anyone who avoids growth and change? What is their life like?

What are some of the effects of not “dying to our former self?”

In what ways do you replenish yourself? What are some ways you could do so further?

For further thought:

“God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever.” ~ Vance Havner

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Be Focussed

“Stop a minute, right where you are. Tell that imperious voice in your head to be still.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver …

When life gets hectic and busy, all that busyness and stress can end up inside of us. This has a negative effect on us on all levels–mentally decreasing the amount of focus we can devote to tasks, physically decreasing our health and wellbeing, emotionally leaving us feeling exhausted and defeated, and spiritually leaving us feeling empty and alone. It is therefore imperative that we take the time to stop and still “that imperious voice in our head,” as Barbara tells us, whenever we find ourselves being hurried or overburdened.

We are most effective and most productive when we are well rested and focused on the task at hand. When we approach life from a place of relaxation, we are able to make better decisions and more sound judgments because the factors that make up those decisions seem less drastic to us. We are also afforded the opportunity for powerful contemplation and insight into things that would otherwise be difficult to find when our thoughts are chaotic.

And then there may be times when being overly relaxed and restful is inappropriate in our lives, as tension can sometimes be one of our best motivators. Perhaps when I am skating in a hockey match or someone’s life is in danger. Calm and relaxed would most likely be more detrimental than quick and concise.

Can you put the restless and anxious side of your affairs out of your mind? If so, then you are on the way to improving your quality of life in many important ways.

Focus on remaining calm and relaxed throughout the day.

Questions to consider:

Why do our restless and anxious thoughts tend to dominate our minds?

What are some ways in which we can let our restful thoughts be more dominant?

How can we learn to relax more in tense situations?

For further thought:

“A ruffled mind makes a restless pillow.” ~ Charlotte Bronte

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We All Lack “Good Mirrors”

“I’m starting to realize that people lack good mirrors. It’s so hard for anyone to show us how we look, and so hard for us to show anyone how we feel.” ~ John Green …

Perhaps it is as John says, that “we all lack good mirrors.” Generally, we are not the best at helping others understand themselves and their feelings. When they are angry or upset, we often return the anger. When they are lonely and afraid, we sometimes avoid them and their misery. Similarly, we are not that good at expressing our own feelings to others around us.

Communication is a skill that most of us do not take the time to develop and improve. When dealing with others, we tend to assume a lot–we perceive things from our own situations in life and deal with them from our own vantage point. Seldom will we take the time to see things from others’ perspectives and help them to understand what we see. And when dealing with ourselves, we tend to feel that because we know what we are saying, others will understand us as well. Yet often times, we are not even sure of what we really want to communicate with others.

Perhaps you have talked to someone before who did not know what he or she wanted. They were frustrated, unhappy, confused, lonesome, afraid, or feeling any number of human emotions, and they did not know how to articulate them to you. Thus, no matter how hard you tried to understand what they were really dealing with, you could not, for they themselves had not taken the necessary time to understand themselves.

We must task ourselves in life to find out who we are inside–what we want and how we feel. For it is through clear and precise reflection that we ultimately come to know ourselves. And it is through this self-awareness and self-knowledge that we are better able to avoid miscommunication. By being a better mirror for ourselves, we in turn are able to provide better insight for others as well.

Look at yourself in the mirror today and ask yourself what are your needs and wants.

Questions to consider:

In what ways are you aware of how you communicate with yourself? Are you aware of the content of that communication?

How important is it to be sure that you are communicating effectively with the other people in your life?

What can you do to improve communication with yourself? With others?

For further thought:

“I sometimes pray not for self-knowledge in general but for just so much self knowledge at the moment as I can bear and use at the moment; the little daily dose.” ~ C.S. Lewis

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