April. Oh the many ways that I like the month of April! Living here in New England, April typically brings a myriad of weather patterns, from lingering snow, days so warm that they catch us off-guard, to heavy rains and muddy conditions underfoot everywhere. Yet still, for us, April is a promise, of tree-top buds coming to life, of bulbs in the garden pushing skyward and dreams yet weeks away of being on the beach and floating among the incoming waves. And in Rise Up Reflections April 2017, it’s good to be alive and having the good fortune of being able to have such dreams of the coming summer months! Hope you enjoy this months reflections.
April 1: Compassion is a muscle. How can I better use it?
If compassion is truly a muscle then I’m going to start lifting weights!
April 2: How do I nurture my practice of gratefulness when life is difficult?
This is a very practical question and one that we all must face now and then. When life becomes difficult due to some situation that is beyond my ability to change or control I tend to draw inward, devote more time to prayer and listen to music more selectively. I also limit my exposure to media while increasing my time walking on trails or on the beach. Most of this I do subconsciously. However, I cannot say that I do any of this in order to continue practicing gratefulness in any particular way. I do this in order to take care of myself, to handle the situation at hand more constructively and for this, “inner practice,” I am grateful.
April 3: How might my life change if I believed that every moment is a gift?
I already believe and live my life with conviction that every moment is indeed a gift. Every time I attend calling hours, wakes and funerals for people who have died, and then have the luxury of walking out the door to continue my life, I am aware of the gift of living into every moment that comes.
April 4: How can I be more gentle in the times when it is most challenging for me to be grateful?
I live with chronic back pain, and when I have a major flair-up so that my pain levels are spiking, I find it hard to feel positive and gentle about the little every-day things around me. Meditating and being with my breathing does help, but I have to remember to employ this measure of self-help. Being gentler with myself when my pain levels are spiking would help too, though I admit that I am sometimes slow to even remember that!
April 5: What is bringing my life meaning right now?
Just moments ago I responded to a note received from a young adult who is experiencing a spiritual crisis. This person, whom I have not seen is several years, asked first and foremost for my prayers. I wrote back and began praying, immediately.
As is often the case, what presents itself directly in front of me is what also provides meaning, and purpose, for my life, period. There’s little need to look very far.
April 6: How can I live most fully so that I can feel satisfaction at the end of the day?
I try to utilize a simple goal-setting little tool every on an app called Trello. The section, or “Board” as Trello calls them, I named “Daily Goals” and in it I list three things that I want to have completed by the end of the day. It may be a chore needing to get done, or something creative that I want to do for myself or even something I want to do for another person, etc. The beauty of this little app is that it displays on my PC, my phone and my tablet. When I complete each task or whatever it is I want to accomplish, I slide that note over to the completed column. Done!
To be honest, I don’t always get all three things done. Sometimes I just forget to do the darn thing too! But the point is, whatever it was that I wanted to do is still sitting there in that little app for the next day waiting to get done. All this may seem like a silly little thing but it does bring a measure of satisfaction when I complete what I wanted to accomplish and I slide that item over to the completed column.
April 7: Who do I want to learn more about?
My desire to learn about specific people is governed by what I might be doing or who I am with at a given time. For instance, if I’m listening to a piece of music, I might want to know more about the songwriter, etc. Or, if I’m talking with a friend and a person’s name comes up whom I know nothing about, that usually piques my curiosity and I may begin a search to learn about that particular person. So it depends.
April 8: What act of kindness did I notice or experience today?
Its 4:30 AM as I write, so the only kindness I have experienced thus far today is this: my sixty-six year old rack of bones and joints got me this far into a brand new day relatively free of pain! Before the hour is out I will do some routine stretches which, when completed, my body usually experiences as acts of kindness.
April 9: How can I ease the path that others are walking today?
Most importantly, by truly listening and being fully present while interacting with others. Sometimes this is as important, and oftentimes more important, than “doing” anything or taking specific action. After that, the simple questions, “How may I help?” Or, “Can I help you with that?” may create the opening and permission needed to be of service to ease the burden that another person is carrying.
April 11: What are some of the joys that come from being exactly the age I am right now?
THAT I AM RETIRED! That I am still able and healthy enough to enjoy doing most of what I desire and have the passion to do. That my life is now blessed with the presence and gift of six grandchildren. That, my dear friends sharing in this space is enough of a start for now!
April 12: Sit quietly and notice your breath breathing itself. How can you remember your breath as a blessing?
How can I remember that my breath is a blessing? By remembering that my breath is a blessing—and being prayerfully grateful for it.
April 13: In the garden of life, what do the weeds teach me?
Sometimes the best things, or circumstances come about of which I had no control of or had a hand in making happen. Even as I continue to pursue short and long-term goals, there are instances along the way that come into play that I had not envisioned, but which, like the pesky weeds in our gardens, catch my eye, hold my attention and mysteriously become a welcomed part of the ongoing lessons of our life.
April 14: How can I make my life more meaningful, starting today?
Lately I have been making a deliberate effort to slow down and observe things more closely. For example, while doing springtime chores around the outside of our home, I have hearing and enjoying the symphony of bird calls that come with spring. Day by day the bulbs in our gardens are inching upward. While at the hardware store getting supplies, I am making an effort to focus and take in the feel of the place. And while interacting with employees, I’m enjoying more of their presence as persons and not just as information funnels who will lead me to a product.
Some of these things I have had to jam in between doing other duties when I was working full-time and then some. Now that I am retired, I am discovering that these “old tapes” on how to get stuff done no longer need to be heeded in the same way. It surprises me too, aware that I’ve been retired now for eighteen months, that it’s taken me this long to realize this! Call it my “light dawns over Marble Head moment!”
April 15: Where is there “small beauty” around me right now?
I am fortunate enough to have one room in our home that serves as my office. Some might call it my study, but that sounds too highfalutin for my way of life. Since retirement I have been slowly repurposing how I use this space. Today, the walls of this room serve as a home photo gallery for many of my favorite images, from stills of old meetinghouse benches to images of children both passive and active, and seaside shots of waves, lighthouses and periwinkles inching their way through the sand.
Everything I’ve done, what I stand for and what I believe is present in this space. An old walking stick juts out high on one wall holding a gong, that when struck, gives off a long, soft-sounding hum. Since she was five one of our granddaughters makes it her mission to run in, and using a stick with soft foam on one end that I keep just for her, strikes the gong’s clapper three times before dashing outside to play.
Like many folks, I have my little pile of “to-do’s” beside my computer. There is beauty too, I suppose, in something that’s waiting, that others are waiting for me accomplish and send them which I suppose I could be doing right now.
April 16: What struggles are offering me opportunities to grow right now?
At the moment I am experiencing a major uptick in lower back pain. It’s a chronic S.I. Joint issue that has its ups and downs. When my pain levels spike and I need to take more medication and do far less physical activities, I struggle with how to remain creative and most especially positive emotionally. Fortunately, I will go in for another series of nerve blocks within two days which will great reduce the pain for another few months. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to have the best medical care available to me. So many other people who suffer greatly do not have the access to healthcare that I am privileged to enjoy.
When my pain levels are elevated I try, and sometimes fail, to listen for what the pain might be teaching me. Sometimes it just hurts like hell, and other times little nuggets of joy come my way precisely because I am forced to sideline doing other things I would rather be doing.
To folks observing Passover this week and Easter today, blessings of spiritual peace to all. And to everyone else, happy blessed new day that we all share together.
April 17: In what moments do I feel the greatest contentment?
Out on the water steering for my five teammates who are rowing a 28 foot whaleboat.
Watching our grandchildren race around the backyard.
When I’m out walking a trail with our dog Gracie.
Creating and editing a photo that captured the moment envisioned.
April 18: Caring for others is a blessing. For whom do I care?
Caring for others is indeed a blessing. And I have my list that I keep close by. Some I share time with one-to-one and others I communicate with via text, phone and through the Internet. I consider it a sacred trust and one that I pray into for guidance.
April 19: What are the riches in my life that cannot be lost?
Such a great question today! However, when I die, the riches in my life die also, do they not? They may remain behind for the living to enjoy but I do not take them with me.
Still, I enjoy this question for what it asks. As long as I have “my life,” I have my being. Thus far I can feel and hear, taste and see and I can wonder, even think (at times!). For sure, these everyday riches that we seldom pause to truly notice are blessings and a gift of life itself.
April 20: What are the simplest things that bring me joy?
Stepping into a whaleboat powered by oars and rowing into the morning mist on the ocean. Leaving shortly to do just that!
April 21: When have I felt delight?
When have I felt delight? When it comes to children, from those I knew from running a Quaker children’s retreat program, or the children I worked with as clients professionally, I took delight in watching them grow. Today, with six grandchildren all living nearby, I get to watch them grow too. Nothing delights me more than seeing children grow over time into the world around them, as their bodies change and their minds develop, it is simply beautiful to behold.
April 22: With whom or where can I be still and listen?
I am most able to be still and listen, and especially able to listen for the Spirit at work in my life whenever I am sitting in a Quaker meeting for worship. I attend a Quaker Meeting that is un-programmed, meaning we worship together in silence. In our ever clamoring, media drenched world I am especially grateful that the tradition exists.
April 23: Where does reverence arise in my life?
Ideally, if I am truly being present to all that surrounds me and nourishes my life as being gifts of Spirit itself, then I should be breathing deeply with reverence all day long. And if I am truly being honest I have missed precious minutes already.
April 24: If what I appreciate appreciates, what is appreciating in my life?
A deepening reverence and appreciation for just being alive!
April 25: How would my life change if I measured it by moments rather than by the clock?
I suppose I would linger longer on each moment as they came. But then, I probably would arrive late for or miss entirely other commitments I had made previously. And those anticipated moments are important to me also.
April 26: Gratefulness is humbling. What does that mean to you?
Maintaining a sense of gratefulness throughout the day helps to remind me that everything I have, see, feel and consume are actually gifts of life and living that I receive. I do not own them. And knowing this, no matter how much I may sometimes think otherwise, reminds me not to forget my true station and place on the planet.
April 27: Whose kindness has touched me?
Oh gosh, so many people have touched me with their kindness over time that it’s hard to pick one person. But here are a few of my most favorite quotes regarding kindness:
I expect to pass through life but once. If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, as I shall not pass this way again. – William Penn
If someone comes to you asking for help, do not say in refusal, “Trust in God. God will help you.” Rather, act as if there is no God and no one to help except you. – Hasidic teaching
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. – Mark Twain
April 28: What services did an anonymous stranger provide me today?
It was only 4:20 AM when I first read this question. I hope not to receive any services from any stranger at this hour of the day! But I get the question.
I find it exhilarating to meet a new person for the first time whether or not they do something for me. That person becomes an acquaintance and perhaps eventually a friend. If we think about it, that simple human transaction alone becomes a blessing and gift shared between one and the other.
April 29: Can I take a moment to appreciate that a “really hard day” for me, might actually feel like a good day to others? How might this be true?
The phrase, which is attributed to various sources, “I complained because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet” comes to mind with today’s question. For over four decades I have had the opportunity to work with people who struggled mightily for one reason or another to just to live through another day. On several occasions when I was having a really bad day personally, after my client left, or when I hung up the phone after speaking with a person in crisis, I thought to myself, and I thought I was having a bad day? I have nothing to complain about!
These days, I experience easier stretches of days and some really painful days dealing with my chronic back condition. I recall more than once upon walking into the waiting room of my pain management treatment center, and seeing people there coping with all manner of mobility and physical challenges. Some of these folks, clearly in what looked to be excruciating pain, put me on notice that things for me could be far, far worse. When my appointment ends, I dress myself, put my shoes on and walk out the door.
April 30: What needs to be released in my life, in order for me to live more fully?
To answer today’s question succinctly and at a purely personal level, a release from the chronic back pain I live with would be nice.