Rise Up Reflections December 2015

Welcome to my Rise Up Reflections December 2015. December is always such a busy time of year with the holidays and all. I confess too that I also look forward to January coming with a brand new year filled with potential and hope. We will see! Thanks for visiting. Your comments at the bottom are always appreciated.

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DECEMBER 31, 2015: What is my vision for the world at its best?

Well, perhaps at best a hope and a dream, that those of us sharing the planet could find a way to lay down arms and use those billions if not trillions of dollars to better care for one another and meet the needs of our brothers and sisters regardless of race or ethnic origin, and to care more responsibly for the environment as well. But if we don’t dream it and think it first, it’ll never happen.

DECEMBER 30, 2015: How can I better nurture the things and/or people I treasure?

To be fully present to people in heart, mind and spirit. Not just to hear them, but to mindfully hear where their words come from. And with things and projects dear to me, to focus and clarify what is truly most important, what I’m most passionate about, and then let go of things that are well, just things, which neither feed my soul nor have true value to me or others.

DECEMBER 29, 2015: How have I grown in one important way lately?

After reading the book Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, last summer, with an eye on my planned retirement at the end of September, this book helped me to sort out 31 years of keepsakes and prepare myself to “let go” of what I did not need to hang on to. This may seem like a small matter, but it’s not. By determining what was most important to keep, it freed me up enormously to begin a process of opening up to new possibilities, and to really “put to bed” some of the things that my life was about over the last three or four decades. McKeown’s book also has helped me to begin shaping what my focus will be moving forward into the New Year. This, I believe, is allowing me to grow into future possibilities.

DECEMBER 28, 2015: Which basic needs have I never had to worry about?

Oh goodness, how blessed and grateful I am to be able to list the following:

Love: Being loved by many is such a gift.
Food: I have plenty for myself and plenty to share.
Water: I turn the faucet on and good, clean water appears.
Clothing: So much it’s time to take some to the shelter again.
My Shelter: I share a beautiful home with a beautiful woman, my wife. And we share our home regularly with six grandkids, three daughters, three son-in-laws and one cat and one dog!
Money: Today, plenty. In leaner years, we managed.
Health:  I’m breathing and writing today. I have some health issues that medicine and health care makes possible. Such a gift.

DECEMBER 27, 2015:  What is the place of art in my life? As an appreciator? As a creator?

I love many forms of art. Some is in our home and some we enjoy at museums and galleries. I am a photographer, and people sometimes remind me that this too is art. Personally, I approach photography as a passion and way to show a slice of a moment in time. Every image is tender and some have the grace of the Spirit within them, which was there before I released the shutter. Is that art? I leave that to others to answer.

And then there is the art of writing itself. And writing about writing never interested me.

DECEMBER 26, 2015: How can I best love the world?

By being present to all that it is, the wounds, scabs, healings and beauty as it comes.

DECEMBER 25, 2015: What do I need to let go of today?Rise Up Reflections December 2015.  Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus

Since it is Christmas, and our entire family of 14, with six grandkids , are coming over today for a wonderful meal together. They’ll be lots of after-dinner clean up, dishes and so forth that I used to enjoy doing. But this year, given the condition of my back, I need to ask that my three daughters and their husbands do the dishes and cleanup. That’s what I need to let go of today! (Clever, huh?)

But, more to the point of Christmas itself, here’s a story I published called The True Meaning of Christmas, with a respectful nod to Howard Thurman.

DECEMBER 24, 2015: Who do I tend to take for granted? What can I do to shift this?

I’m sure there has to be some people who I either do or have in the past taken for granted. But none specifically come to mind at the moment. Sometimes I have to remind myself to be aware more fully of the person I am about to meet, however briefly, because I may have my head elsewhere at that very moment.

DECEMBER 23, 2015: What are the ways that I express gratitude?

By saying thank you for starters. Sometimes by holding people I care about in prayer when they are dealing with a difficult matter. By trying to remember details about their life, and then asking them about it, whenever I see them. However, I admit here that I sometimes don’t think to ask, or that I don’t remember specific things that I wished that I did.

DECEMBER 22, 2015: What one word could I focus on this week that could make me a more grateful version of myself?

Well, two words work for me: “Carpe diem,” Seize the day, live the day, take the day, pluck the day and savor it fully. Why not?

DECEMBER 21, 2015: What time of day is most peaceful for me? Why?

I’m up almost every morning around 4 AM. It’s my favorite time of day to write and to meditate/pray. The house is quiet, even the cat and dog don’t follow me down the stairs this early! I also row with my team three times a week at 6:30 AM because it’s so peaceful. And of course photography at that time of day, just before the sun comes up, is splendid light as well.

DECEMBER 20, 2015: How can I be a source of gracious surprise for someone today?

With this prompt I plan to send an e-card from Gratefulness to a person who would likely never expect it from me.

DECEMBER 19, 2015: How would I live this day, if I thought it might be my last?

I’d want to live out my remaining hours in the presence of all of my family members, for their sake and for mine.

DECEMBER 18, 2015: Who am I thankful for knowing?

Taken as a group, my fellow Quakers near and far. Another group would be my family, of course. Then, I’m also grateful for the members of my rowing team as we’ve been together nearly 15 years and counting, God willing. The one person that I am most grateful for though is my wife, Betty Ann.

DECEMBER 17, 2015: How can I cultivate mindfulness in the midst of chaotic moments?

For me, it helps if I am aware that I am about to step in to a chaotic situation. This was a common occurrence with my work as a Youth Advocate for 31 years. If I entered a situation prepared for the worst scenario then the odds of me being able to do my work successfully increased. During those times when chaos erupted unexpectedly, then staying near to my breath, to speak slowly and using affirming, short sentences, always helped. Sitting down too helped whenever possible. In the worst of situations I sometimes hum a meditation mantra that I learned at a retreat that repeats a simple phrase, “From thee I receive, to thee I give, together we share and from this we live.” For some reason the repeating tune coupled with what amounts to a simple prayer calms and steadies my mind and spirit.

DECEMBER 16, 2015: What memories sustain me?

Perhaps the memories of my youth, during my farming years; milking cows and caring for live animals where every touch and movement was known and felt by the hoofed lives within my care; the sweet aroma of fresh-cut alfalfa hay in early June; the secret silence and stillness of walking to the pasture at four AM to bring the cows back to the barn for morning milking; and the feel of a newborn calf’s first gush of breath upon my arm, still wet and warm from its mother’s womb.

I have not farmed in many years.  But each sense of my body has been imbued with the memories and lessons of those years that informs, inspires and sustains all that I do today.

DECEMBER 15, 2015: How could a sense of gratitude shift my perspective in this moment?

I struggle at times to remember this, that taking a moment to be grateful for what is, that I have the ability to re-frame how I think and approach a particular hardship is at my disposal. For instance, I live (quite well, mostly) with chronic pain, which is draining and limits my motion and what I can do. Sometimes I catch myself thinking too much about the pain itself, which only makes it worse. What I need to remind myself of though…which is right now, actually, is that I am so fortunate that the best medical treatment (pain management) is available to me because of my life circumstances and good fortune. In three weeks I will have another major treatment which takes most of the pain away for several months. That’s what I should be grateful for this very moment.

DECEMBER 14, 2015: Can I recount – what does a moment of bliss feel like?

It feels like perfect peace, without needing words.

DECEMBER 13, 2015: Knowing that commitment unleashes energy, what can I commit myself to today?

As time allows, I’d like to remain committed to writing for this site and my photography.

DECEMBER 12, 2015: What can I learn from my regrets?

Some of my regrets came about because I made other choices along the way. And those other choices I do not regret at all. It’s my sense that as life unfolds and we make decisions along the way that there always some things that we wished we had done differently. But isn’t that the advantage of hindsight being 20/20? The few regrets that I do have, upon reflection, were also mistakes I have made over the course of my life. And those, for the most part, I have learned to either let go of or have forgiven myself for. What good does it do to carry those around with me all day?

DECEMBER 11, 2015: Toward what person can I open my heart, and make a needed difference for both of us?

Being mindful of yesterday’s reflection, I found myself needing to take today’s reflection into some silence to sit with it. The person that rises up most for me is a person who once had my total trust, with both my emotional and spiritual condition. This individual was in a position to nurture and support me two decades ago, but as I learned suddenly, was anything but trustworthy. This is a person I also interact with regularly still. I have forgiven this person many years ago, mainly so that I could let go and move on. And while I believe that my heart remains “open” to this person today, I am also aware that I am cautious and do not trust this person fully at all and doubt that I ever will again. Perhaps my heart could be open more fully in this instance but honestly I am just not sure.

DECEMBER 10, 2015: How can I make time and space for the gift of silence today?

This reflection is interesting because I’m actually in the early stages of writing a story about the sacredness of silence. As a Quaker, we worship in silence, and begin and end all our committee meetings with opening and closing silence. For me, the beauty and gift of silence is that it can be practiced anywhere, in a Quaker meetinghouse, at the beach, on a subway train or sitting in my home office just before I write. There are no rules, no handbooks, no apps needed to practice and benefit from silence either! You only need to bring a willing body, an open heart and breath to call and wait upon what comes.

DECEMBER 9, 2015: What makes me a good friend?

That I listen and respect the person I am with; that I am truly interested in what’s happening in their day and their world; and that I would spare no effort to help them in any way that I could.

DECEMBER 8. 2015: How do I love trees?

Let me count the ways….Again, this is when I wish we could post up images here…because as a photographer, I have dozens and dozens of trees in my photo files! Trees are holy sentries, with enormous energy to heal and hold. I have what I call “Spirit Trees” that I have visited and sat against, talked to and held. And when I leave it feels like I have just left a powerful worship service.

DECEMBER 7, 2015: If I let go of my complaints, what might be underneath?

I probably don’t complain near as much as I may quietly brood about some things. And I realize that such brooding for the most part is a useless undertaking that just sucks up time that I could be thinking more positively and then doing more positive things.  I do find myself complaining about my chronic back pain…frequently to myself and sometimes to my wife who is very sympathetic. A healer I know wrote that we need to find a way to make our pain our companion. I get that…but really? That statement, while I know is correct, also makes me want to complain even more about my back! Ha!

DECEMBER 6, 2015: Every life experience contains seeds of wisdom no matter how hidden the blessing. What seeds can you harvest right now?

Because of my work with young people and families for four decades, and a response to ministry within my Quaker Faith, I have been privileged to know and frequently help people live through difficult challenges in their lives. I’ve been told that my writing and photography frequently bear witness to having done this work and having been present to this ministry. So with that being my “base,” I am trying to focus extensively on my writing and photography in the year ahead…. So if my life’s work thus far has been the “seeds,” then hopefully my words and images will eventually be the harvest.

DECEMBER 5, 2015: What books have made me feel most grateful?

Let Your Life Speak, by Parker Palmer. The Kabir Book, by Robert Bly. And Fear, by Thich Nhat Hanh.

DECEMBER 4, 201: Who is one of the most “noble” people I know? Where does nobility live inside me?

I’d have to say my friend John Calvi. He’s a healer and massage therapist who has devoted his life to working with torture victims and beginning in the 1980’s John Calvi worked with people struggling with AIDS when there was little effective treatment.

To be honest, I have no idea where nobility lives within me. If I did, it would mean that I was looking for it, and if so, for what purpose?

DECEMBER 3, 2015: What strengths of character have I learned from the hardest times in my life?

Almost 40 years ago I got fired for speaking my mind to my boss. I forgot that even when openness and honesty were touted as virtues in that particular workplace, that I was the employee and not the boss or the owner!  Those lessons have served me very well ever since, wisdom learned and gained that I have found a way to share with others along my life journey. Not quite sure that I’m all that ‘grateful’ for that experience, but it’s been a useful tool along the way just the same!

DECEMBER 2, 2015: When have you given a gift to someone that you truly gave away with no strings attached? How did it feel?

I think that I’m honest here when I say this, but, if I give something away, to someone or to a thing,  the last thing I’d ever think about is what’s in it for me. Otherwise the giving is not a gift, but a loan.

DECEMBER 1, 2015: If I knew I had a month to live, what would I start doing now?

I hope I would do the following: That I would begin saying ‘thank you’ to all those around me who have enriched my life down through the years. To my family members, I would want to say ‘I’m sorry’ to be leaving them so soon. And once I had done all that, I would begin to say goodbye.