Hang in there, y’all. Be strong enough to take others’ health seriously. Be brave enough to let yourself still love your very own life. And find joy in the journey – if you can’t find it right now, look for it around the bend, maybe by letting yourself have a good chuckle. Life is good, even now.
IMPORTANT NOTE: My poem below and this post are not meant any way to make light of people with ongoing depression. It also is not at all meant to imply that people with depression or who are sad, should not seek help professionally, personally, from the experts, and from friends and family who love you. This poem is merely an attempt on my part to address my own dealings with loss and sadness at the current time as I am having to deal with certain issues.
Perhaps because you are more isolated and alone, you too, need just a small reminder to look on the bright side of your life as soon as you are possibly able. Perhaps you are feeling more vulnerable in yourself, or your relationships, or your beliefs. When the world seems dark, keep looking for the light. And if you can’t find the light yourself, follow the person with the flashlight or the candle. Believe in your heroic ability to do what you need to do in such a time as this. And if you can’t believe in your own abilities, lean hard on and use without guilt, the gifts and guidance of those people who have suffered much and still managed to have big hearts and a lot of love for other people.
I often have felt, at least in my own culture, we lack the ability to truly grieve and truly angst. We do need to go completely through the process of completely grieving or mourning the loss of something or someone, and that takes time, which we are seldom given enough of to do it all properly. If you are feeling down today for big or small reasons, or even for reasons that you can’t even put your finger on to explain what and why they are – let yourself feel sad. Let yourself feel down. This too is part of the journey that leads to something and somewhere and sometimes Someone or someone. We can’t always succumb to fear of sadness in the same we can not always succumb to fear of viruses. Neither one is something we want, but neither will any of us remain unchanged by the reality of both in the human experience. Change can be good, even when painful. But as one of my favorite quotes, says, fear can be a super-power if you use it the right way. And so can sadness and even a manageable amount of depression.
I am not recommending that you fast-forward to denial and I am not recommending that you skip ahead to self-medicate yourself with a false sense of happiness. It is not wrong to grieve or feel scared, or even to feel depressed, if you go through these things with the idea that it is for a greater purpose than wallowing in them. And if you make quite certain that you know somewhere inside your deepest self, that you are never meant to stay there in any of those things – not fear, not sorrow, and not depression. You are meant to go on to that feeling that makes you know you are bigger than anything small enough to live inside you – virus or fear or depression. You are meant to believe that hope and all of those actions and that particular life that only you and you alone – that all of that can come out of suffering to be something better.
Believe that there are big good things waiting for you, and that those things are strong enough and plentiful enough to defeat the small bad things — big things like smiles and laughter, and kindness and trust, warm food and warm touches, and lovely smells and lovely sights, and sweet dreams and sweet words, and of course, there will be the biggest most powerful weapon against all the bad stuff, the greatest of all — Love.
We may have to wait, and we may not like waiting, but perhaps we should remember that it is better to be out here pacing in the waiting room, than in the metaphoric surgery or morgue. Waiting means there is time to learn and learning means there is hope, even perhaps, in life after the surgery or morgue. So if you are feeling helpless, imagine instead that there is something, someone that needs your love. And love is worth waiting for.
You are the piece of coal today, that tomorrow can be a diamond. You are cocooning today, so that tomorrow you can be the butterfly. You are feeling the gritty sand behind your tired, sick, sorrowful eyes right now, so that tomorrow your eyes can be clear, and you will become as transparently real and as beautiful as glass. Today’s grinding sand are tomorrow’s windows to a cleaner, brighter soul.
The more sand has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it. Jean Paul
Grieve and moan, angst and hide out for a bit, but take care of yourself. Let yourself hope even if you can’t feel it yet. Let yourself love something, even if it is something small or inanimate, even if it can’t love you back. I have been loving the actors on old Netflix TV series who make me laugh, even though they will never love me back. I have been loving the sound of the birds outside my window, the smell of cinnamon raisin toast and coffee, and the dredged-up memories of wonderful times I have shared with people I love.
Let yourself own your feelings for now, but realize you have only checked out those feelings for the time being. Like a book from the library that you don’t enjoy, return it as fast as possible and find another reading on life that can make you smile and feel hopeful again. Seek and find the very best parts of YOU, and of others, and seek some modicum of joy wherever and whenever you can, in those people and things around you.
*******At the end of this post, as in some of my past posts, I will share several links that you can text or call if your depression has reached such lows that you do not want to live any more. Please skip ahead to those links if you are feeling that way right now.
Please know that you are an important part of the lives that surround you and even if you don’t feel it right now, there is help and there is a way out of this and a way forward. Don’t give up.
A Poetic Pick-Me-Up
By Jane Tawel
March 17, 2020
I can’t stay sad for long,
It isn’t in my nature.
Unless I have done wrong,
To creature or Creator,
I’ll find the brightest side,
And let that be my guide,
To muddle on,
A smile to don,
And not stay down for long.
If I’m not in the right,
I’ll muster all my might,
To ask to be forgiven,
And then get back to livin’.
So, if I have hurt you,
Then please, just tell me true,
And also what to do,
To change your point of view.
But if I’m blue because,
The universe seems flawed,
And I am sad inside,
I’ll let Love be my guide.
I’ll cry or rant or rave,
But soon, I will be brave,
Enough to see the glass
More full– and greener grass.
Because when all is over,
I’d rather be in clover,
Than sitting on my bum,
And feeling mad or glum.
For a little while I gave up,
And then my mind, I made up,
To find the strength to burrow,
My way towards tomorrow.
There’s light and love just round the bend,
So, I will let my sore heart mend,
And find some joy in living
And then get back to giving,
Myself the right to heal awhile,
And find some peace, and find a smile.
I hope that if you’re weary,
And like I, maybe teary,
That you won’t give up either.
Just give yourself a breather,
From worrying or angst-ing,
Or in sor-row ensconcing.
I’m here for you, and you for me.
And surely, we can both agree,
That if we really need each other,
Our grief and woes, they will not smother,
The best in you and best in me,
And that is what humanity,
Can do, and live, and hope, and be.
With just a little happiness,
And trying to look on the best,
I think we’ll overcome the rest
Of what has made us feel depressed.
And letting go our pains and woes,
And seeing how this next bit goes,
We might to joy and peace succumb,
And our depressions overcome.
So, I will hope, but I won’t rush it,
And even when life’s lost its luster,
I’ll trust and love and faith I’ll muster
For if I shine just one more smile,
Then I’ll feel happier in a while.
Yes, happiness can be a plan,
To counteract and to demand,
That I care for my heart and soul,
And make some joy my greater goal.
Yes, I can cry and I can grieve,
But I am meant for joie de vivre.
Tomorrow I may mourn again,
And feel more sorrow and more pain,
But now, I’ll store fear on a shelf,
And take good care of my wee self.
I’ll find a smile, and do my part,
To heal my mind, soul, bones, and heart.
For life is good and love is long,
and hope can never do us wrong.
For fear is small and passing’s strife,
So, grasp at love, and re-love life.
Don’t ever be afraid or ashamed to get help with serious feelings of sadness or depression. The links below are to services that are available 24/7. Your call or text will be anonymous, and free.
Be brave enough to think you matter enough to someone to find hope in your journey. You are worthy of another day here with us. Believe it.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BELIEVE YOU ARE SUICIDAL TO CALL OR TEXT THESE NUMBERS. YOU JUST NEED TO KNOW YOU WOULD LIKE SOME HELP WITH LIVING TODAY.
PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH ANYONE YOU THINK COULD USE A HELPING HAND TODAY ALONG WITH YOUR OWN.
How to Secretly De-Stress and Re-Joy the Human Race
How to Self-Care Anywhere, Anytime
By Jane Tawel
January 8, 2020
You lie awake in the wee dark hours, your mind churning and fussing over what happened in the past or what you are anticipating in a stressful future. Or you sit at your desk and simply can not focus on the menial or career-defining task at hand. Or you perch on an uncomfortable chair designed to keep you awake when bored in the umpteenth meeting for the umpteenth yakkity-yak, feeling your shoulders rise to your earlobe level, ready to scream at the next speaker, for no other reason than that they, too, keep using that ubiquitous and utterly irritating most recent pause filler again and again and again. I swear, the next time I am listening to someone speak publicly about anything and he says, “that being said”, I am going to take off a shoe and throw it at him.
That being said, here is what I will try to do instead. The next night or day I feel stressed-out, but am also trapped, and unable to get outside and walk around in the “real world”, the world not made of nightmarish sleeplessness or sleep-inducing boredom, or irritatingly boring meetings, or anxiety-inducing discussions with people I like, but who are causing me stress for some reason right now, etc. etc. etc. — I will purposely practice relaxing and re-joying.
I would, like you, of course prefer to run away from my nightmares by having a “nightcap” or metaphoric “toddy” of another chapter in my mystery book, relaxing by candle light, but I have to get up for work in two hours, so I really need to find a way to go back to sleep. By day, I would really prefer, to check my cell phone during a boring meeting, and fake a shocked look on my face, stand up, apologize to the people in the meeting, but tell them there is an urgent emergency that requires my immediate attention and I have to go. And as I hastily walk out the door when they ask me what the emergency is, I will tell them, “the emergency is that my head is going to explode if I have to listen to one more thing coming out of any of your mouths while, you like not-hot-at-all succubi, drain and suck the life slowly out of me.”
The following ways to de-stress when you can’t escape either someone else or your own churning thoughts, are old techniques, and yet, I hope, may be fresh ideas on how to try to de-stress your mind and body. These are techniques you can use when you sleep next to someone you don’t want to wake-up, or when you can’t let-on to the person standing next to you that you are de-stressing. These are the secret care -for- the- soul means and modes to find at least a bit of relaxation, less stress, and maybe some actual and evident true joy in whatever journey, day or night, you find yourself on.
Eight Practices in De-stressing and Re-Joying
1. Be a Cat. Cats enjoy themselves just for being themselves. If you are allergic to cats and can’t own one yourself, watch videos of cats, and then be as sneaky as they are in self-care. You don’t realize how completely committed to self-care, cats are until you have lived with one. Dogs may teach me that there is joy in being with others; cats teach me that I can find joy just by being with myself. Cats are endlessly able to make themselves happy and content by playing with fluff, stretching their limbs, yawning, staring out the window, scratching their itches, and licking themselves. I don’t recommend licking yourself in a sales meeting, or yawning when your loved one is droning on at you, but if they don’t catch you, you could stare out the window or play with a bit of fluff.
2. Silently repeat memorized poems. Of course, first you need to start, (if you haven’t already) memorizing things that will help calm you. I have a few poems by Dickinson, Frost, and Donne pretty much under my belt, a couple ancient psalms, and The Serenity Prayer memorized (except for the lines about “accepting things at they are and not as I would wish them to be”, which for “some reason” — air quotes aptly applied — I balk at remembering). Memorizing de-stressing words of great artists and those human beings who left a record of having lived well, help me get outside my own thoughts and into something higher. Poetry is important to read and helpful to memorize because metaphors and concise imagery take us to a different plane of understanding and metaphors can grow in meaning along with our own individual growth. It is also easier to memorize things that rhyme or things that are poetic in structure, so there is that.
Memorized pieces also can function as mindless mantras, sometimes, much like counting sheep might in terms of repetitive-type thinking meant to help in relaxation. Rather than using my brain to read or write or do something that requires me to take-in something that will stress or stretch me further, or require me to put-out something new and productive; repeating memorized “feel-good”, encouraging, or joy-inducing literary things, is a way to somehow connect little old me stressing-out within, to and with something big and grand and wonderful, without. Memorizing things comes in incredibly handy when you simply can not pull out something to read or watch.
3. Breathe in and out, but send the breath into different parts of your body. We can all get a bit lazy with letting simple breathing techniques relax or de-stress us. This technique is an old theatre exercise and one that you can do anywhere if you are relatively quiet about your breathing. Take a deep breath in and then mentally send that breath into a part of your body. If you are short on time, simply send it into the part of your body where you are feeling the most stress. If you have time and maybe a wee bit of privacy, or you are trying to sleep, you can lie down and do this properly. If you are able, you can stand up at your desk or sit back for a moment, spend five or so minutes, and close your eyes, and send the breath into every part of your body. If you are at work, one of those slightly extended bathroom breaks that we all take from time to time, is much better used for de-stressing this way, rather than sneaking time on your cell phone, and stressing out about the latest Kardashian drama or the text from your spouse or the screenshot of what your kid got on his math test. If possible, take several minutes and start the exercise by sending the breaths into your toes, then feet, then calves, then hips and work all the way up to the tippy-top of your scalp.
If we truly thought of our breath as our life-flow or our spirit, then we would honor it more in every part of our bodies. By letting my breath have space and a place in each part of me, I honor the whole of myself. By de-stressing my entire outer-being, my body, I am practicing not only a physical exercise but a spiritual discipline, and I will find that I am better able to let go of what is stressing my inner-being, or mind, heart, and soul.
4. Tense and release, starting from the feet working up to the head, and then reverse the order from forehead down to toes. This is also a breathing exercise and functions much in the same way as breathing into your body does. Again, start at your toes and “stress” them by scrunching them up, tightening as tight as you can all the muscles in them; hold the tension while you breathe deeply in;, then all at once, release the tension as you breathe out. Work your way up your body again from the bottom to the top, not forgetting any part — fanny, tummy, your fingers, wrists, jaw, forehead, etc. Breathe in- Tense. Breathe out — release. If you are out and about and people may be watching you, you can still do this pretty secretly with your feet, your hands and sometimes your facial muscles.
5. Massage your hands. The “handy” thing about this is that you can do it without anyone noticing. Try massaging your neck next to someone, and they will ask you what is wrong, and then you’ll be all stressed out explaining. Try massaging your feet, and you will be asked to put your shoes back on. But most people will not notice if you are massaging your hands. While not as relaxing of course, as a full body massage, or even a foot rub, massaging your hands does have benefits. In fact, there is a special little spot, between your thumb and forefinger — that little web-like spot, that if you squeeze hard between your other hand’s thumb and forefinger and massage that web in little circles — even to the point of a bit of pain — you can relieve minor headaches and relieve cold symptoms. I often need to put moisturizing lotion on my hands during the day, and will use that time to do a little massage of my hands with no one the wiser. (Choosing to have a good smelling lotion is an additional sensory technique for reducing stress which has acceptable public approval ratings).
Our hands do so much for us, it is nice to give them a little special attention and lovin’ during the day and they will return the favor by making us feel more relaxed. Pressure points on the hands work much like those on the feet to relieve a host of problems. Here is one schematic of pressure points in the hands and their associated problems that massaging can help relieve.
6. Replace bad memories, with good plans and vice versa; replace dreaded future events or things you are dreading ahead, with good memories from the past.
I have a difficult time accepting that there is relatively and almost always nothing I can do to change the past, either in my own life, the life of someone I love, or the world at large. I can, however, take the memories or historical facts that are weighing on me, and use them for fodder to plan for the future. While it is true and important that we not avoid thinking about stuff, and must try to learn and grow by learning from past mistakes, that doesn’t mean that we may think and plan better if we also reduce stress.
So when the past is burdening my thoughts and spirit and I can not get the crazy, stressful ‘history-monkeys’ off my back, so to speak, I make not good plans, but “plans for GOOD”. I let my mind wonder into what seems impossible or un-doable and I dream big and imagine wildly. If something in a past relationship is upsetting me, I imagine a future where that person and I are traveling to Italy or having a moon walk together in a future where space travel is available and free for all. If I am feeling bad about myself in the past, I imagine a future when I am reclining on clouds, eating calorie-free bread, cheese, and chocolate and discussing and creating art with Michelangelo, Bach, and Shakespeare. If I am anxious and fearful about decisions leaders make that lead us towards war or increase pain and poverty, I quietly might sing the words to John Lennon’s “Imagine”, and dream about all the good things that will happen with enough daring hope and enough audacious kindness.
As for stressing out about the future, which I often can and should do something about, but which sometimes, of course, I can’t be certain of, or in charge of, or feel at peace about no matter what happens — I find it helpful to look to the past, of either my own life, or the lives of other human beings. I am a worrier and a planner and the two often go hand in hand, even if I am planning something that is “technically” a good thing. I get consumed with tomorrow when it is still today. I churn over wanting to find solid, immediate answers to questions that are still in the queue. Will it turn out? What if? Should I? Will she? Why? Why not? What is that pain in my side and will it kill me tonight in my sleep? Etc. etc. etc. And while none of us can foresee the future, we can all choose how to remember, focus on, or obsess over the past.
If I am stressing about something I am “driving” towards up ahead on my future day’s or life’s road, it is not only helpful, but wise to remember that I also should be looking in my rear-view mirror at what is behind me. I look behind me and realize, “oh, I did make it around that pothole successfully, even though I didn’t know it was there.” Or, “wow, I took that last speed bump way too fast which was kind of thrilling at the time, but I think I will slow down for this next speed bump ahead.” Or maybe, “that is a beautiful sunset and view, back there. I can’t turn around and go back myself, and I certainly can not turn the whole darn bus around for everyone else, but I can stop, and just gaze in my mind’s rear-view mirror, meditating on the beauty and joy that I and so much of the world, have traveled through.”
Looking at the past glorious sunsets and remembering successful points of view, can help us anticipate tomorrow’s sunrise, and find hope that the triumphant point of view of someone else traveling, just like I am traveling, will arrive, up ahead, just around the next curve.
7. When you can’t doodle or write lists, draw pictures in your imagination. This is where I, a hopelessly horrible visual artist, can rise to the ranks of a Van Gogh or a Gary Trudeau, depending on the need. If you are stuck lying awake at night, imagine the ceiling as your canvas and paint your own “Starry Night”. If you are stuck looking at a podium or projected power point, become a Gary Trudeau or a Bill Watterson and doodle some cartoon characters in your mind’s eye (just remember to chuckle silently or you may get a dirty look or two). If you are waiting at a bus stop, figurative or otherwise, and foolishly forgot your book, don’t hop on the cellphone where more stress both mentally and visually lie in wait. Gaze at the scars and junk around you and create beauty. Remember that lovely scene in the movie “American Beauty”, when the plastic grocery bag becomes a thing of beauty as it floats in the breeze, and the character named Ricky, teaches us that this is proof that “there is an incredibly benevolent force at work in the world”. It is good to allow yourself to believe that if you can find beauty, you can find benevolence. Of course, then go pick up that plastic trash and give it a proper burial in your closest recycling bin.
Which brings us to:
8. Turn trash into beauty. This is a hard one for me, because I want to destroy trash, not find its beauty, but sometimes you can’t. However, I also find that allowing the trash to defeat my own peace of mind and inner beauty, allows both the real trash and my mind-trash, to defeat my inner fight for peace and joy. I sometimes can not stop my mind-trash from winning the immediate battle, but I can stop it from winning the war.
I have two friends, both of whom take old things like broken furniture or shards of pottery, and they take what would be trash to anyone else, and restore and remake it into beautiful, functional, and artistically joyful new things. I need to do more of this “turning trash into beauty” of the things in my mind, heart, and soul that weigh me down, give me anxiety, or stress me out. Turning trash into beauty also can work to get rid of stress when someone is trash talking; when you can’t turn off someone’s voice that fills you with pain or anger, or you can’t turn off in your mind what someone said to you or about you or on the television or whatever. The mind is a powerful tool and can be used to turn ashes into art, and trash talk into poetry.
We should not do this by ignoring the truth of the dents, mars, holes, or big “boo-boos” in situations, jobs, choices, or relationships. Sometimes, you have to see things for the un-fixable messes they are, cut your losses, and choose better and more wisely next time. But sometimes, you have to realize that nothing — absolutely nothing — from a piece of furniture to a job to a human being — is perfect and without blemish. We simply can not keep hoping for perfection and throwing stuff out or blowing things up until we find it, because perfection is an ever just- out -of- reach goal, not a gift to hoard or a trophy to claim. Perfection is a motivator and a dream, not an accomplishment or historical achievement. Recognizing this in the wee dark hours or the irritating or fearful or angering ones, can go a long, long way towards finding honest but benevolent ways to replace a desire for perfection with a desire for joy in the journey.
And sometimes we should remember that one woman’s trash, is another woman’s treasure. To accept the imperfections of others, myself, and the planet itself, means that beauty is in the eye of the beholder if the beholder is focused on finding beauty. Creating and retaining a cesspool or nuclear waste dump of thoughts in my beautiful mind should be no more acceptable than creating and retaining them in our beautiful world. Once I recognize a thought as trash, I should find a way to clean it up and clear it out.
Not a day or night goes by, usually, that I do not have to “give myself permission” to de-stress and practice habits of finding ways to re-join myself to all that is positive and valuable in being alive and in being human. We all need to take more time and more thought to restricting the bad and re-joying the good.
It’s a funny old world we live in. Perhaps it is especially a wacky-world for us who are privileged and yet confined by being First-Worlders; humans who live here, with not just great stress from without made by those who rule us, but stresses from within, and those, often of our own making. There is much to be done about all the things out there that make us fearful or angry or stressed-out, and we should not take our hands from the plows as we work to make the world a better, kinder, more beautiful place for everyone.
I long for a world where we are surrounded by people who automatically and quite naturally follow that universally admired but eternally just-out-of-reach Golden Rule; and by human beings who freely and joyfully treat other people with love, as they would like to be treated themselves. I yearn to find that kind of love within myself, not as a rule, but as a naturally occurring, deep-within-me, daily phenomenon and life-style.But to truly care for and act on behalf of others, we must practice habit-forming pro-active self-care and find practical, functional, as well as emotional and spiritual ways to “love ourselves, as we would like others to love us.”
Take the time, spend the energy, honor the Good in yourself, and as quickly as possible, clean up whatever is marring your beauty, peace, and joy in the journey. Love others today, by giving the gift of love to yourself and by practicing self-care. Then play it forward to some else.
Today, right now, wherever and whoever you are, Re-Joice in the best in all of us, past, present and future, and Re-Joy in the Journey.
Here are Ten Small Radical Things that I think we should make daily habits, but that we can at least try to do today. These come from my own succeeding and failing at each of these. Try one, or a few of them today. Each day make time to live with hope and joy — these Ten Things could help.
Laugh until your sides hurt. It’s best to do with someone, but if that’s not possible, do it with the person who “gets you” the most — yourself. Laugh with a comic book, a funny video, a comedian, or watch a squirrel or a puppy (often great sources of humor).
2. Hum a tune. This is a great way to relax your mind and your body. It activates the all-important Vagus nerve. It is incredibly fun to do on your own and can also be a great way to drive someone else crazy (should you need to).
3. Take care of something small that you don’t usually make time for. Sometimes, it is as simple for me as taking time to brush my hair for fifty strokes — so relaxing! I find taking care of my finger and toe nails to be a helpful reminder that I really do have time for small things if I stop letting my time be gobbled up by the big, bad things, like the “Busy-Ness Monster” or the “Blob of Ennui”. Try spending just a wee amount of time caring for some small part of your garden, either figuratively or literally. Or do something for just one part of your body that needs attention. Try a face mask or hair treatment or just elevating your feet against the nearest wall. The important thing is to do it yourself, not spend any real money on it, and do it in solitude, caring for your inner self as you care for something outside of yourself. Most of all, enjoy doing it, not as a task, but as self-care.
4. Chew more slowly or drink more deeply. Actually and intentionally tasting what you are imbibing or masticating will give you two important, transformative things; it will give you more pleasure and more gratitude.
5. Go outside. If it is too hot or too cold, stand on your porch or your stoop and let your body really feel what is going on. If, like Goldilocks, the weather is just right, take a walk. Of course, Goldilocks may vary. The best of all weather for me, here in the desert, is rain. I love to walk in the rain. But even if you just have a three-minute break today, go stand outside. But don’t do it for steps, or exercise, just go outside to BE. Be in a real environment called “The Outdoors”, with no fake lights, no fake air, no fake animation. Enjoy the Realness. Look. Listen. Feel. Breathe. Unwind.
6. Wave and smile. If it’s to a stranger, that is the best kind of gift since all you will hope to get in return is a wave and smile back. If they don’t smile or wave back, you will still feel better. If you make this gesture to someone you are working with or someone in your home that you see day after day, a little wave and smile will be a happy reminder to both of you that you are both human, and you are both trying your best. That connection will remind you that two people can find a little happy moment together, no matter how much stress you may be experiencing. A smile and wave cost nothing but bring joy to the giver and the receiver. Better than words sometimes, is the unspoken gesture which requires neither deflection nor acceptance. A wave and smile will interrupt any flow of negativity, at least in the giver, and hopefully, in the receiver.
7. Play with some thing. I keep a little canister of Play-doh near my computer. I also have a life-long habit of playing with a strand of my hair. Play with something that does not require any thought at all — no Sudoku or Crosswords (though I love both for other reasons). If your teacher will let you, (and I always tried to), play by tapping your pen on your desk. If your husband will let you, just play with his hair or his earlobe. Stones and leaves and rolly-pollies are good to play with, as is mindless doodling in the margins, or by amusing oneself with a piece of string or sticky tape. Playfulness leads us away from childish behavior into child-like behavior, and in that makes all the difference towards enjoying a life well-lived.
8. Be a hero and save something. Save water by using less. Save something from the trash that should have been recycled. Save someone from having to stand, by offering your seat. Save some time to volunteer to help needy bodies rather than always working on your own body at the gym. Save a bit of time to call someone for a chat. Save a bit of money by making your own coffee then giving that money to the homeless guy on the street. Be a small hero in some way every day and give yourself commendations for heroism and bravery and moral achievement. And with enough small acts of heroism, you will develop the super-powers of love, hope, and joy.
9. Relax. Turn everything off. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Meditate or Pray. Stretch out or curl up. Nap or take a bath. If you absolutely have not a single moment for any relaxation, go into the bathroom cubicle, sit or lean against the wall for a minute, and give your mind a one-minute vacation. Think about ocean waves and sun. Think about swooshing down a snowy slope. Think about floating on a raft down a lazy river. Think about splashing in puddles in the rain, holding hands with your best friend. Think about a place and go there. Immerse yourself in the imagination of that place. Find a moment of tranquility there. The mind is an amazing tool for accomplishments; let it do the same amazing magic and restore you.
10. Tell yourself something good about You. This is not like an affirmation or mantra, but rather, you talking to yourself like a positive, encouraging Coach. Find a name for the part of you that you are talking to. For instance, instead of chastising myself and trying to motivate myself through negative “pep talks” (which I do often) such as when I sneer at my two Nemeses of “Gut” and “Butt”; I could say, “Hey, soft, swishy Tum-de-tum-tum, thank you for being strong inside with all your good bacteria you grow there. I appreciate your inner health. And thank you, dear Womb-an, for carrying four babies that are the joy and love of my life. You did a great job and I am proud of you for surviving.” Maybe you would like to say something like, “You know, Silly Sally Mind of mine, you made your boss smile today with your silliness and that is a great accomplishment.” Or you could just tell yourself, “Hey, The Rock, you worked like a beast today. Bravo you!” Or try saying this to You today:
I thank you, Self, for being alive.
I thank you, Me, for sticking with Myself.
I thank you, My Dear, for giving it another try.
I love you, Me for being my best “I”.
Ten Small Things. But as Mother Teresa might add: “Not all of us can do great things. But all of us can do small things, with great love”. Love Yourself. Love the World.
We used to sing songs like “This little light of mine” or “Jesus loves me, this I know” or “This is my Father’s world”, or “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. Where?! Down in my heart! Where?! Down in my heart!” Now we sing songs about how broken and lost we are. I was making myself giggle the other day trying to imagine my grandpa and grandma pulling up a hymn book and singing along with “Oceans” or “Broken Together”. And, honestly, I get it, I really, really get it — I love those songs — but reading Henri Nouwen has convicted me that what is most difficult of all for me to do is to live as if I am loved by a real, true God, to live each day as a beloved child of Jehovah.
I have to grow up, out of my whining and whinging, and accept the covenantal family relationship of “IF God = Then I”. I have to see God as a parent who loves me and who promises that no matter how far the world descends into madness or “pig swill”, Our Father will be preparing a party at home in His Kingdom for the return of His lost ones. Then I have to look around at the suffering in the world and the lost folks on my own doorstep and karaoke with Jesus on, “this little light of mine. I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”
I have got to be that leper — the one out of ten — that can’t stop shouting about how joyful he is to be healed and who dashes through the opened party doors that Jesus shines the light from. Does that leper have hard days? Yep. Did Jesus have hard times? Yep. But those hard times — and they can sometimes be daily — are the times I must follow The Son’s example of retreat — even if only for a moment — to enter the accepting solace of The Father’s arms. In that love I find true joy as a dearly loved child of God.
The second hardest thing for me to do is to follow God’s ancient command to love other people as if they are also beloved children of a real live God. Matthew 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” God loves the prodigal sinner in the very same and eternal way that he loves the eldest believer — both are sinners saved only by the inexplicable, unchanging, running -forward- towards- us joyful, joy-inducing LOVE of OUR Father.
So if I have opened my arms to accept the loving embrace of this God, then I must not focus on my brokenness but must fight the darkness with joy. I am a child of God called to speak truth, fight injustice, love enemies, sorrow with the sorrowful, walk upright, and to REJOICE in the nearness and love of God. This is the joy that comes with being not a servant but a child of a King. If I don’t accept what The Father offers me — complete forgiveness and restoration to what He created me to be — If I don’t allow myself to be reborn and returned not to slavery but to sonship like Jesus, The Son, — If I don’t allow the sorrows of this world to be shadows dispelled by God’s light in me — THEN I am turning my back on The Father as He dashes across the earth’s plains, longing to bring me back into His Garden Kingdom. I must know Him as loving Father and myself as His beloved. I must daily put on the royal robe and enter the party.
And if I have opened my arms to accept the loving embrace of this God, then I must open my arms with a loving embrace for all those who do not know how loved they are by a God. BY A GOD!!!!!! With that acceptance of my role as daughter, I must look up from my not so very important work to see the one lost prodigal or the one proud hateful eldest that God also runs toward. I must sorrow with she who is lost and rejoice with he who enters the same embrace I am held firmly in. I must join in God’s party for each child of God. That is what evangelism is — oh how I mourn with those who have lost that word’s meaning — Evangelism is going out there and discovering that everyone’s name is on God’s party list and then flinging open my own arms to party with each invitee like there are endless tomorrows of celebration. Because there are– God’s Hoopla has no end. The “Good News” is an invitation open for each individual, no matter who they are, who seeks joy in God’s love. In Jesus, I experience the joy of my own celebration of salvation in being loved by God when I see how dearly loved even my worst enemy is by the God who loves.
One day, as Jesus gathered His children, or those we call His disciples, to Him to give them the power of His kingdom, in Luke 10:21 the Bible tells us that ” In that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Dear Father, please help me to seek Your gift of Joy in the Jesus Journey. Help me see myself and others as much loved children. Create in me a heart and will to mourn with those who have so much to mourn about. Then let me trust that no matter what, You can create joy. Forgive my petty complaints and help me not act like a slave but as your child Help me accept that everything You have is mine. Forgive my grasping hands. Help me to open my hands to all those I meet and to give what You have given me. Help me to open my arms that You have filled with plenty of Your goodness and love — enough to last forever. Please let my little light shine. Amen
From Henri Nouwen in The Return of the Prodigal (emphases are my own):
“From God’s perspective, one hidden act of repentance, one little gesture of selfless love, one moment of true forgiveness is all that is needed to bring God from his throne to run to his returning son and to fill the heavens with sounds of divine joy….
When Jesus speaks about the world, he is very realistic. He speaks about wars and revolutions, earthquakes, plagues and famines, persecution and imprisonment, betrayal, hatred and assassinations. There is no suggestion at all that these signs of the world’s darkness will ever be absent. But still, God’s joy can be ours in the midst of it all. It is the joy of belonging to the household of God whose love is stronger than death and who empowers us to be in the world while already belonging to the kingdom of joy.
All holy men and women, whether they lived long ago or belong to our own time, can recognize the many small returns that take place every day and rejoice with the Father. They have somehow pierced the meaning of true joy.
For me it is amazing to experience daily the radical difference between cynicism and joy. Cynics seek darkness wherever they go, they point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior. They consider themselves realists who see reality for what is truly is and who are not deceived by “escapist emotions.” But in belittling God’s joy their darkness only calls forth more darkness.
People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other’s wounds, forgive each other’s offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God’s glory.
Every moment of each day I have the chance to choose between joy and…….
Jesus lived this joy of the Father’s house to the full. In him we can see his Father’s joy. That divine joy does not obliterate the divine sorrow. In our world, joy and sorrow exclude each other. Here below, joy means the absence of sorrow and sorrow the absence of joy. But such distinctions do not exist in God. Jesus, the Son of God, is the man of sorrows, but also the man of complete joy. … The joy of God belongs to his sonship, and this joy of Jesus and his Father is offered to me. Jesus wants me to have the same joy he enjoys: “I have loved you, just as my Father has loved me. Remain in my love, If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this, so that my own joy may be in you and your joy be complete.” The Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen (116-118)
Wednesday, March 1 will be one of my favorite days in the year. It is Ash Wednesday, a day where some of us who believe in Jehovah, the God of Israel, the God of The Christ, begin forty days of penitence. The Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah. (Note to self: The Muslims also celebrate these same days of repentance.) At the end of these various religious days of repentance, there is a big celebration: we call it, Easter or Resurrection Sunday. The Jews call it Yom Kippur.
So I am meditating on the fact that I seem to have been born into a time and place where the idea of penitence, remorse, regret, sinfulness, unholiness — all of it — is “not a thing”, as the kids say. Perhaps born out of time and place, I am trying to make it “a thing” — a daily “thing” in my own life. I walk and pray and try to accept a daily sense of my need to be cleansed from “stuff” inside and outside, in my mind and in my heart. The bible I read, calls it a sense of my own unrighteousness and need. And being redeemed has to do not only with eternal salvation but with relationship to a specific and real God and relationship to specific and real others — my neighbors which Jesus says include my enemies, as well as my family members, biologically family or Christ-0logically family.
The first time I experienced someone who celebrated Ash Wednesday was when I was a freshman at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. My beloved theater professor, Jim Young, came to class with a large black smudge on his forehead and I, being ignorant of the meaning, kept trying to rub it off for him. He recoiled in horror from my little anxious helping hand. Jim is no longer wearing ashes; he is now on the other side of Resurrection Sunday forever.
I often think of that metaphoric moment and how it reveals continual issues in my own life. I have grown up in a culture that does not want to look at negative things too closely and does not want to live in grief much at all. We want to move straight on to the celebration. We want to helpfully and quickly remove the “smudges” from our own lives and the lives of others. We want to “bury the past” and “bury the body” and be happy again. We move past the moments of sorrowful deaths, both the literal ones and figurative ones, as quickly as possible. There is not enough time to grieve or mourn, there is too much to do and accomplish, and staying busy and active helps us “get past” the problems and sadnesses in our souls. And what good does it do any one anyway?
The only problem is, all of that reasoning just isn’t true. We know it isn’t true somewhere deep inside. And when we keep living by denying the smudges and moving on to the resurrection of our own happiness, we end up with ever larger and larger holes in our souls and confusion about why we aren’t all that happy. We merely bury the live body of ourselves along with the dead bodies of the other person, other relationship, other job, other life. We move our bodies along, but our souls begin to rot from within, merely masked in the myrrh of merriment. We refuse to go through the needed completeness of penitence and grief, a daily need, as Jesus told Nicodemus, to go through the painful channel of suffering and be reborn into new life. We want Jesus to have suffered for us on the cross so we can wash our hands and souls of a need to suffer with Him on behalf of our own broken lives and the lives of others. We want to avoid going through the Red Sea and wilderness and arrive in the promised land with all our “stuff”, saved and cleansed by someone else’s journey, while we sit and watch, grumble and criticize, and devour the panacea of false hopes and happinesses. We want the fruit from that tree not the one we were provided — partying continually, eating, drinking and being merry, and never finding the joy that comes with the hard work of penitence and deprivation, fasting from self-love in order to find the love beyond measure in our Heavenly Father and the selflessness of a reborn soul.
In the bible, numbers matter and forty and ten, the days of Lent and of Rosh Hashanah respectively are days of completeness. At the end, of both of these times, I don’t end up with a better me, like I might after a diet, but I end up with a better sense of who I am in the vastness of eternity and worlds without end. I end up not less penitent, but more humble and thankful to be alive, more thankful to a God who loves enough to suffer and grieve. I end up closer to shalom, or true soul-wholeness, and with a better relationship with a real God, and a better relationship to the reality of this world and my neighbor. I end up with an inkling of what completeness might really mean. And that is how sorrow leads to celebration.
This Lent, I am sharing with folks that I will be “fasting” from Facebook. The reason I am fasting from it, is because I keep anxiously and falsely thinking that I can be “helpful” — I am wired to be busy, busy, busy as a teacher, a parent, a friend. I have been reading a book by Parker Palmer and this week’s reading was about the days of “Lent” for Jesus — The Forty Days in the Wilderness– days when Jesus met head- on complete fasting and complete temptation. The One Who Was Sinless came out from those days of deprivation and temptation with a better relationship with a real God and a better relationship to the reality of this world and His neighbors, including His enemies. Jesus came out of those forty days with more grief and more joy and began the business of saving the world. And in The Christ’s ministry of sorrow and suffering, we all get a better chance at celebrating.
One great thing about writing a blog, is you get to connect with other writers. I have realized that anything I have to write, has been written better by some one else, but I also realized that I simply am one of those people who must write to think and process. I encourage any of you readers who want to take a journey into a less unfulfilling -self-centered life and a more fulfilling, other-centered life of “being”– a life where a true lenten season and a daily sense of grief and repentance and a conviction of one’s own need and want is a path to a true sense of completeness or shalom– where a time of repentance and taking up Christ’s cross leads to true joy– I highly recommend you read some of the great writers on these topics. There are many. If you haven’t read the bible for yourself, check it out along with those who can illuminate it for you. Recently, Parker Palmer and Henri Nouwen have provided a huge paradigm shift for me. I encourage you to read them. Here is the passage from Palmer that has given me an idea of how to fast and celebrate Lent this year. I look forward to celebrating with you on Facebook on the other side of the next forty days. God willing. Here’s to ashes!
From The Active Life by Parker Palmer: on fasting, temptation, and the need to prove ourselves:
In the first temptation Jesus faces, the devil says, “If you are the Chosen One, tell this stone to turn into a loaf.” But Jesus refused him…. But these word of Jesus, his refusal to turn stone into bread, are his response to the devil, not to starving people. Once Jesus moves through these temptations and embarks on his public ministry, he works a number of miracles, including the provision of bread for people who are hungry. What Jesus says and does is related to context, and when the circumstances are right he has no inhibitions about using his powers to meet authentic needs. We need only to understand why the circumstances in this story were wrong.
The devil prefaces his challenge to turn stone into bread with a taunt that takes a very familiar form: “If you are the Chosen One…Though few of us get needled for thinking we are Chosen, the tone of that taunt should remind us of outward or inward voices in our lives: “If you are so able… “If you are a real woman or man…” If you truly care…” If you are such a good parent…” The root temptation here is almost irresistible. It is not the temptation to do a magic trick, which most of us know we cannot. It is the temptation to prove our identity, which many of us feel we must…
Had Jesus made stone into bread simply to show the devil that he was the Chosen One, he would have been acting mechanically, caught in the cogs of cultural expectations, compelled by circumstances to act a role. By refusing to do so, he both demonstrates and extends his transcendence over the context of his action….Jesus does not regard himself as accountable for his calling to any voice except God’s so in his refusal to “prove” anything to the devil he is actually proving that he is the Chosen One…
When you refuse to meet the terms of an external demand, refuse to produce publicly verifiable results, you do not prove anything in the normal sense of that word. Instead, you leave yourself open to charges of elevation or cowardice, and you forfeit the external confirmation on which so many of us depend; you may become inwardly shaky about who you really are. …
In light of the fact that Jesus had been fasting in the desert for an extended period of time, “and at the end he was hungry,” the devil seems to speak with a voice of reason, perhaps even compassion, when he says, “… Tell this stone to turn into a loaf.” Henri Nouwen calls this the temptation to be relevant, and with that word he names something that many of us face from time to time—the temptation to “solve” some problem on a level that does not solve it at all, and may even make things worse.
Jesus’ real problem in the desert is not hunger—though it might look that way to an outside observer—so his real solution is not bread… when the time comes to end a fast, you do so gradually, and not devour a chunk of bread! When we rush to the aid of a fasting person, attempting to be “relevant” by insisting that he or she eat, we are likely not only to be irrelevant but to do harm as well.
True relevance requires a certain subtlety, which the very idea of relevance seems to exclude. What Jesus really needs in his desert fast is not food. In fact he does not need anything external. Like the woodcarver in the poem, who fasted not merely from food but from praise and criticism, gain and success, Jesus’ real need is for inward confirmation of his mission, a confirmation he is more likely to find in the emptiness of fasting than in the gratification of bodily needs…..
Actions that seem relevant may turn out to be irrelevant in the extreme. Parents know that they do not necessarily solve a child’s problem by giving in to the demand for a special toy. They must address the problem behind the problem, which may be the child’s capacity for delayed gratification or for simple self-reliance. Teachers know that they do not necessarily solve a student’s problem by answering the questions the student asks. The real question may be the student’s ability to find answers for himself or herself, so the teacher who withholds answers may enlarge the student’s capacity to learn. The temptation to be relevant is often the temptation to deal with only the external illusion of a problem and ignore its internal truth. (Palmer, The Active Life, excerpts from pp. 106-108)