Life to the Max

Life to the Max?

[Audio version: Life to the Max]

I’ve got a little friend called, “Max.” Max is my neighbour’s dog. He looks like “Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy” if you’ve ever seen the Lynley Dodd books (or care to Google the image).

Max is an enthusiast. Nothing is held back. I have known him try to draw me through the garden fence by the power of his nose suction alone. This little black, wet nozzle of a snozzle finds a tiny gap under the fence and inhales as if his life depends upon it… His wagging tail causes a small tremor that can be felt through the ground… he is truly inspirational!

I think it would be fair to create a verb in Max’s honour: to be Maxed. To be Maxed means to be enthusiastically ‘assaulted’ by an energetic bundle of hairy love!

I’m pretty sure Max’s love is unconditional, or perhaps indiscriminate. It still feels nice – if you’re not wearing your posh togs.

Walking to the shop the other day, I saw Max in the distance, and thought to myself, “Today, I do not wish to be ‘Maxed’!” I wondered how I could politely avoid being pounced upon without offending him or his owner. My concerns were unnecessary. Max was ‘elsewhere’. He had found some fascinating scent along the bottom of another fence and was busy pursuing this trail. Nose down, he was blissfully unaware of anything else.

Max had found joy and freedom through single-minded focus. One thought, one purpose, one pursuit. I don’t think he has many worries, but if he did, he wouldn’t have been troubled at this time. His mind was absorbed.

Could you find joy and freedom in single-minded focus today? Could you make a promise to your brain that you’ll come back to the other stuff it’s fretting about later but in the meantime just focus enthusiastically on something lovely and absorbing?

Live life to the Max.

 

Amazingly Simple

I watched a young child race his mother to the pedestrian crossing. Why did he dash to the crossing? For the amazingly simple pleasure of pushing the button! How many children get a wonderful amount of pleasure from being allowed to push a button or turn on a switch? Of course, celebrities enjoy this too – turning on the Christmas lights or cutting the ribbon to open something.

I’ve just made my first cup of tea of the morning. I was suddenly thrilled by the concept. Here was tea all the way from India (Assam), processed in a way that I simply had to add water to experience that taste of the East in moments – amazing! The experience was made possible by the electric company, the kettle manufacturer, the water company, and the dairy who had prepared the milk to such exacting standards. I was in receipt with a little miracle of modern life… and in touch with it again like the child’s thrill in pressing the button.

Of course, I could go on. My father’s shower is one of the most glorious experiences on the planet! I am very often grateful for the engineering skill that allows me to enjoy hot water coursing over my grateful nerve endings.

And in case you’re thinking I’m the most positive person on the planet… just talk to someone who really knows me. I fight against clouds of gloom on a daily basis but I know that where my attention rests can change my state of mind. I am enormously grateful that I still have a child-like sense of awe about the most seemingly simple of pleasures: the morning tea, the shower, the joy of rain drops on a pond, the sight of a Mistle Thrush…

My hope for you today is that you enjoy that same tingle of pleasure from things that are simply amazing.

 

Poem: Sometimes

Sometimes

Poem: Sometimes
Sometimes…
…life seems annoying
Sometimes…
…people seem stupid
Sometimes…
…the weather seems all grey
Sometimes…
…I don’t know why I bother
—ooo—
And then
I hear your voice
And then
I see your smile
And then
I smell your perfume
And then
I know
It’s all worthwhile

Sunday Sermon: Listen, lest we forget

We-Remember_7634

It’s Remembrance Sunday here in the UK.

This reminds me of the three reasons important matters don’t get done:

  • I ran out of time
  • I misunderstood
  • I forgot.

Well, in many ways we are all running out of time – not in a grim way like that may at first sound, but as a species, we have some decisions to make and some behaviours to change.

We’ve certainly misunderstood a lot of important messages that both our Planet and our history have sent us.

And it’s all too easy to forget the clear lessons of history.

I remember reading in an anthology of poetry this brief yet poignant poem from Steve Turner:

History repeats itself

Has to

No one listens

Well, today is the perfect reminder of history.  So many lives sacrificed because of human nature – and perhaps because of misunderstandings too.

My beliefs still include the power of education and the development of intelligence.  An emotionally intelligent person cannot do harm to another.  A financially intelligent person cannot accept the cost of war (unless they have an interest in the commodities that fuel a war).  A morally intelligent person cannot ask others to do what they wouldn’t do themselves (thinking of the class divides in war).

So what can we ‘learn’ from History on Remembrance Day?

In one sense, to my mind at least, history is the history of bullying.  Those with lower intelligence and who have made less progress along the evolutionary pathway make a wrong turn.  This turn is a fundamental decision: “I am different from you.”  This leads to some beliefs and behaviours: “This means that I may legitimately treat you in a way that I wouldn’t treat someone like myself.”

Sounds like the opposite of Jesus’ Golden Law: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  In the case of the bully, the ‘other’ is not in the same class, therefore the rules don’t apply.  I’m pretty sure this is why hostages in movies are encouraged to get their captives to learn their names and use them – a bridge of equality through mutual recognition.

So there’s a lesson to start us off: we are all connected.  That connection is strengthened by the use of a pleasant name.  Ergo, let’s be careful to use people’s preferred names to demonstrate respect and connection.  This is one reason I appreciate the War Memorials – the names.  Everything that is that person is associated with their name.  Their name is an anchor chain that pulls up the anchor of their memory lest they be forgotten in the depths of time.

Leonardo da Vinci believed that everything was connected to everything else.  I agree.  It’s just ecology… an ecology that now stretches to human interactions, technology, climate change, and all the other aspects of history that are changing our World.  Are we listening?

My identity is central to the way I live in that ecologically closed system we call the Earth.  If I see myself as separate, or superior, or different – it allows me different ‘rules’ than if I see myself connected.  I am connected.

History is also the history of beliefs.  What wonderful good beliefs have done in our history.  The abolition of slavery is a favourite since this echoes the truth of our similarity not our difference.  The falling of the Berlin Wall is another.

berlin20wall20freedom

And what terrible evils have been done in the name of beliefs in our World.  These continue to be perpetrated – and will do so until we recognise our fundamental sameness to one another.  We are one species.  To harm another human is to harm the species – evolutionary suicide at the macro level.

As we Remember today, we would do well to learn that some beliefs are harmful and need to change.

History is a catalyst that can drive us to a better future.  We have stunning capabilities now.  India is receiving some criticism at the moment for funding its space missions but neglecting its poor.  It’s an interesting dilemma but not my point.  (After all, the USA and Europe and China have their own poor to worry about.)  My point is that India can build a spaceship as good as the old Empires of the USA and Russia.  India has new capabilities.

With these new capabilities come new behaviours that transform culture and thus history.  The internet, the greatest connector in history, has levelled so many playing fields.  Combine this with education and a pleasant revolution follows: power to the people.  I love the fact that the bullies of the Banks are being brought to their knees and being forced to change their behaviours.  Their deeds, done in the dark, behind huge bank doors, are being dragged into the light.  There will be more revelations to follow.

I’m not sure how I feel about Wikileaks, but it is another example of our new collective capability to access and share information – and to change our behaviour as a result.

The behaviours that defined the First World War were largely changed by the Second World War.  These acts of violence are now different today in Syria and other troubled places around our pearl of a Planet.  Perhaps we all need to look back – at History, and up – at the stars.

 We Are Stardust

We are part of one pretty small but really rare planet.  There may be other life out there, but at the moment we aren’t helping them and they aren’t helping us (as far as I know!)  So, we need to help each other and our home.  This means looking after the environment in which we live and move and have our being.  We are family – we even breathe the same air and are made of the same stardust.

So, on a day when we are asked to Remember those who’ve sacrificed their lives – the highest love – so that we may continue the mission, let’s remember some great words of John F. Kennedy:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

We went to the Moon, and we looked back, and this is what we saw…

Our Pearl of a Planet seen from our satellite, the Moon

Our Pearl of a Planet seen from our natural Satellite, the Moon

So, I conclude with the lessons that I am learning and that perhaps we can share…

  • I am connected to you – to hurt you is to hurt myself; to help you is to help myself
  • I am fundamentally the same as you – I breathe your air and you breathe mine; we are stardust
  • I believe we all have the right to be free, happy, healthy, and wealthy.  My freedom is not freedom if it restricts your freedom.
  • I am capable of so much more – therefore I dare to dream of a better future for my children and grandchildren and for your descendants too.
  • I choose to change my habits on a daily basis to promote peace and symbiotic harmony on this Planet.
  • I work to leave the environment in which I was born in a better state than when I inherited the Earth.

Encourage One Another – Daily

I thought I might return to my roots and begin producing a Sunday Sermon again!  Fret not if you’re not into sermons – this is for everyone, not just for those who attend Church (which I don’t either, currently).

“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Hebrews 13:3

Today’s little message is on the vital importance of encouragement… encouragement as a daily prescription for psychological and spiritual health.

Encourage is a wonderful word isn’t it – the english splits to ‘en’ and ‘courage’ – which could be a message in itself – how we can put courage into one another.

The Greek meaning here is more of an intimate urging – to bring comfort or even bring motivation to action.  It is to act as a catalyst to help someone convert inertia into momentum.

Your Personal Coach

Being an encourager is like being somebody’s personal coach – and on a daily basis.  You lovely gym goers will know about the power of having a personal trainer.  Well this is a personal trainer or coach for your soul.  The Scripture here is suggesting this is a role for all of us.  Part of our mission as fully-paid-up-members-of-the-Human-Race is to encourage others.  What do you think of that description:

“fully-paid-up-member-of-the-Human-Race”?

I first heard that used to describe Vanda North (www.mindchi.com).  It seemed a very loving way to describe someone.  When I met Vanda I understood why.  Here is someone who is fully subscribed to being all that’s good about Humanity: compassion, humour, joy… and encouragement.  Vanda is one of those people who sees no value in using one exclamation mark when three would be better!!!  I have never left a meeting with Vanda without feeling encouraged

So how about that as a role for you and me too?

It’s a simple mission: seek to encourage everyone you meet – and on a daily basis!

Of course, there would be consequences!

  1. We might have to cut down on complaining or gossiping – because they’re not very encouraging to hear about are they?
  2. It might not work!  And for this reason, encouraging others needs to be our intention regardless of the outcome.
  3. It might be catching!

Psychological Sclerosis

I thought that would excite you!  Sclerosis is a word used to describe the hardening of body tissues.  The one that interests me here is the heart – the spiritual heart.  It seems that a lack of daily encouragement can lead to a hardening of the heart.  Here it mentions “sin’s deceitfulness” – but I don’t want to be all preachy.  My single point is that discouragement might as well be called sin because it is so destructive and deceitful.  Encouragement is positively righteous!

I’ve met thousands of people with a hard heart… and perhaps thousands more on the way to a hard heart.  It is not attractive.  Well, at least we know the rememdy: daily encouragement.  The Doctor can keep her apple, I’d prefer encouragement any day!

Our Mission/Hour Mission

So are you ready for our Mission briefing?  Being an encourager (or “fully-paid-up-member-of-the-Human-Race”) is about being creative.  Why?  Well some people are going to pose a challenge!  Can you find something good to say about everyone you meet each day?!!!  If not, there’s a “Plan B”.  Plan B is to find something good to say to everyone you meet.

That will still take creativity – especially if you’re not feeling so good yourself – but it can be done.  You see:

“Action follows attention…”

Psychologically, action follows our thinking patterns (obviously!)  And our thinking patterns are stimulated by where our attention is.  Where is your attention?  By drawing someone’s attention to something encouraging, you tamper with their mindset in a good way!  I don’t usually feel happy after watching the News, do you?  But five minutes with Vanda, and I’m grinning like a joyous chap!  I’d love to be able to have that effect on others.

Hour Mission… how about having this as an hourly ambition and mission – find something good to say to someone each hour.  Sounds exhausting?  Actually it’s the nutrition that feeds and fuels life – because I promise you that you’ll find that when you encourage others, you’ll end up feeling encouraged and energised yourself.

Poem: About Shantaram

Shantaram

I was so touched by this book, that I wrote the following poem about my experience.  Clearly, it was the right book at the right time for me but I would expect anyone with a heart that is still asking questions and seeking answers to Life’s big questions to be touched, disturbed, and moved by it.  If your life, like mine, is not ‘working out’ the way you’d hoped or expected, you may well find new perspective in these pages, new hope, or a least a welcome escape!  On a day when my life could have been saved but wasn’t, I turned to that other world that only books can offer, and found my solace there…

Shantaram

I’d found my escape through the pages of your book,

Fleeing beside you with each turn we took;

You released me from my mundane struggles

Thus, I’d take you to bed, and down we’d snuggle…

I lived again, through you, vicariously it seems for years

Your life, your loves, your hopes, your fears;

Knowing you more deeply with each turn of the pages

Taking only hours to read events that, for you, took ages.

They say, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

So I say, “thank you!” that my teacher drew near

And walked at my pace until I began to understand

What life’s decisions can do to a man.

{That life’s decisions make a man.}

Good deeds, bad choices, the road that’s not taken;

Regrets and remorse, and beliefs that are shaken.

New chapters and beginnings, great loss and then redemption;

Such sadness, such joy, such dilemmas, such tension.

You have made a roller-coaster of my heart –

The whole gamut of emotions rise and fall:

Joy, sorrow, relief, and grief –

I’ve travelled through them all.

And now our journey’s at its end

I’m proud to count you as my intimate friend.

The Question of Ownership

Owning something can be exhilarating.  Humans, however, tend to “own” intangible things too such as beliefs and emotions.  Furthermore, we have a habit of “owning” conditions.  Only one of these latter types of ownership is useful.

The language of ownership is shown through the use of the word “my”.  When I say, “my temper sometimes gets the better of me,” that is useful ownership.  It linguistically shows the possibility that I can take responsibility for controlling my temper.

Lots of people, however, talk about their conditions as if they owned them and were defined by them: my arthritis, my cold, my depression.  This is not “wrong” – I simply believe there is a better way.  If we talk about “the arthritis”, “the cold”, “the depression” – we dissociate and distance ourselves from what is a foreign invader, alien to our natural state.

Many faiths believe the body is a temple – a beautiful place fit for use as a sanctuary of peace and joy.  As such, I don’t think afflictions have a place in the temple.  By removing the word “my” from the way we describe something that is hurting our temple, we sow the seeds of resistance and resilience.  We may not be able to expel the condition for medical reasons but we can at least resist its tendency to define our days.

Depression is a challenging one since some aspects of it can be influenced by our approach.  In one sense, owning it as “my depression” makes sense, as in talking about “my temper”.  My take on this, though, is that we are better off seeing depression as a far-too-complex, layered, alien state that would be better addressed as “the depression” (similar to an economic or weather depression).  Distancing ourselves from it in this way challenges the legitimacy of its right to continue, calls into doubt its permance – and can thus lead to more resilience.  In application, I might say something like, “the depression has lessened today as my joy in writing has distracted my thoughts along a more useful path.”  Since I believe that “whatever gets your attention, gets you!” it is helpful to give the invading state less attention, and apply focused ownership to a more benevolent state.  One of the mercies of human psychology seems to be that we can only concentrate on one state at a time!

These small distinctions can make a phenomenal difference to your day, this day, today!