This month’s installment, Rise Up Reflections July 2017, of daily questions answered, includes several references to the back surgery I had back on May 1. At about eight weeks post-op, this summer is shaping up to what I call a summer of healing. And that makes sense even though I am eager to return to my normal routines.
I hope that some of my visitors here enjoy the questions. And as always, I encourage people to answer them for themselves and to connect with the good folks at Gratefulness.org.
July 1: What parts of my body do I take for granted?
I take no parts of my body for granted, actually. Some parts of my body either have or have had challenges, but as I write, God willing, all systems are functioning. Maybe not all at 100%, but I’ll take whatever percentage I can get.
Many years ago an old Quaker woman who lived well into her nineties told me, “You get to a certain age and its snip, stitch, patch and go.” These days I can live by those words, body parts and all.
July 2: What am I grateful for?
Seriously? I could fill a small ocean with the things I am grateful for!
July 3: What is life?
When it comes to the proverbial question, “what is life,” the words of George Bernard Shaw have always spoke volumes to me:
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.
I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.” – George Bernard Shaw
July 4: What has inspired me today?
It’s a bit early…I have been up just twenty minutes! Thus far, I’m pleased that my brain, muscles and bones have cooperated enough to help me make tea and sit at my keyboard. Future inspirations to be announced.
July 5: What are the senses through which I experience the greatest aliveness? When are they most alive?
Whenever I am holding my camera, my eyes begin seeing anew and my heart begins feeling what I hope to capture as an image. Walking about at dawn, or sitting somewhere, anywhere, just looking around, with or without my camera, is the time when my senses are the most alive for sure.
Just yesterday, at exactly five weeks post-op from lower back surgery, I slowly and carefully dipped into the ocean for the first time this summer. It was a symphony of the senses all firing at once — for touch and skin, the sea-sounds, sight lines and briny ocean aromas. Feeling the need to be cautious I lasted one minute and it was grand.
July 6: What is the next right action?
Generally, the next “right action” for myself is when movement towards a new goal feels effortless, almost automatic, in which my heart and spirit are aligned in “right order.” Safe to say that this does not happen all the time, either. Occasionally an action taken feels forced, hard and exhausting. That’s when I say to myself, why am I doing this? Who me, stubborn? Never!
July 7: What have I learned lately?
Not enough. But I am grateful that there is still time.
July 8: What touches me most in my encounters with strangers? With loved ones?
I don’t know if “what touches me most” applies when encountering strangers. What “strikes” me most when meeting people I don’t know for the first time is that I am experiencing a fresh, and brand new feeling each and every time. Meeting this particular person, right here, right now, whether it’s for a moment or forever, is, I think a wonderful and unique human experience.
What touches me most upon meeting loved ones is entirely different. All of my senses land upon what is known, trusted, remembered and well, the person who is loved. It’s a home-coming of sorts for the heart and entire being.
July 9: How can I tend the tenderness around me?
There are so many things all around us that rise to the level of being considered with “tenderness.” For me, the first order of tenderness to be mindful of is people. Here the needs are enormous. And attending to people with tenderness has been my life work thus far, in nearly every setting I find myself in. For me, it’s not a “how” but a “do.” And I start by paying attention. Sometimes it’s a matter of just being present to observe or be with another person. In my own mind I may ask, where is the hurt, what is the unmet need, or simply where is help needed most? These questions almost always place me where I need to be present to that which is tender in others.
July 10: What would help me to say an unconditional “yes” to my life exactly as it is today?
These kinds of “saying yes” questions to this and that baffle me at times. I’m thinking to myself, how can I be saying anything but an unconditional yes to my life? Because if I did so, that would be living less and dishonoring all that life is and has to offer. I will have a very long time to be dead. So I plan to bring on, unconditionally, a full-throttled yes to life as it comes right now.
I am certain though that others in this community will have varying ways of approaching this question and I will look forward to their take on it.
July 11: How would my life change if I saw everything as an opportunity?
It depends on what kind of opportunity we are talking about. Opportunity for self-improvement? Deeper introspection? Personal gain? Monetary reward? As I consider this question it falls within the life path and course I am currently on. So I would hope that increased opportunity would mean I would find more ways to assist others in need, or that my writing and photography would improve or find new outlets and that I would continue to remain healthy in order to put whatever opportunity came about to good use.
July 12: When and from whom have I experienced forgiveness in my life?
Safe to say that I have experienced forgiveness regularly in my life over the last 44 years from my wife. Nothing earth shattering on the surface, just the kinds of things that can drag down a marriage if not attended to from day-to-day.
July 13: What are my recent dreams telling me?
That I need to reduce how much political news I am consuming. It’s giving me nightmares. And when I wake up the nightmare becomes real.
July 14: What new experience of myself am I having?
Today’s question strikes me as funny. Not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s from having worked with teenagers for four decades and knowing that if I had asked them a question like this in a group setting their laughter would have carried all the way out to the street!
For myself, it’s a great question because as I heal ever so slowly from back surgery, I am slowly discovering new-found movement and less and less overall pain. And for this I am very, very grateful.
July 15: When do I feel optimistic? Is there a pattern?
When I have undertaken some kind of project or endeavor and have put time and various resources into making it happen then yes, I am optimistic about its outcome. I feel that it’s important to have some good energy and vibe attending to anything I may be undertaking, otherwise why bother? If there’s a pattern, it’s only because the optimism tends to accompany the activity or project I am doing at a given time.
July 16: What is ending in my life now? How can I hold it with love and compassion?
At this absolute moment in my life I am not sensing that anything specific is ending. But all this could change by the time breakfast rolls around. For now, I am content not to beat the bushes looking for losses and endings.
But if someone asked me, “Where are the transitions in your life right now, Kevin,” the list would be long and running. And woven somewhere within that fabric of life the threads of endings and also beginnings reside.
July 17: What have I offered people today?
Well, since I have only been out of bed twenty minutes, I’m afraid not much! But since I have been given the gift of arriving at a brand new day, I’m guessing I will interact with one or two dozen people in the hours ahead and we shall see what opportunities arise.
July 18: What connects me to a sense of the sacred?
Many, many things connect me with a sense of the sacred. Most consistently over the years it has been worshipping and interacting among fellow Quakers; working with children; being near to and on the water; photography; certain music and words; colors and light. The list could continue.
July 19: How have the difficulties in my life helped me to know my resilience?
I see difficulties in life as a part of life itself. They happen. And we either find a way to meet these challenges and deal with them as best we can, or, we succumb to them. And while I don’t think that I am any more resilient than the next person, at sixty-seven years of age, I am still here and still relish being in the game. That’s all I need to know.
July 20: How am I being supported by others right now?
Let me count the ways! There’s the love that comes from my wife, from family and friends, and the friendships that continue to blossom from people here and there. And I can’t forget my seemly growing cadre of medical practitioners who work to keep my heap of bones and flesh intact. And let’s not forget my four-footed pal, Gracie, our dog! That’s a good start to what could be a very long list.
July 21: What parts of my body do I treasure?
What parts of my body do I treasure? All the parts that work!
July 22: If I really believed that I have everything I need, what would I do next?
At this point in time I actually do believe that I have everything I need. And I am also thinking of “what comes next” and what I would like to do next. Fortunately for me, the “we” in my life is larger than the “I” of what I may want, as we, my wife and myself, consider the future. And while nothing is baked in yet, it’s a gift just to be able to have the future to think about.
July 23: Every single moment matters. How can I make this moment matter even more?
By striving to be fully present to the very moment that is, right now; by being still, staying with the breath; by exhaling and rising with reverence into this brand new day.
July 24: What is the difference between feeling grateful and being grateful?
Who knows? I am just happy that the emotion of gratefulness exists.
July 25: What anchors (or has anchored) my life amidst the storms?
My family, my faith and my close friends. Honestly, that covers it all for me. And I experience it all as a gift and a blessing.
July 26: When I am silent, what do I hear?
When I am silent I can hear almost everything. And then if I go even deeper into that silence the ‘everything’ that is related to sound itself fades away too, which is wonderful. As a Quaker, silence to us, since we worship in silence, is akin to what a good pipe organ is to a Presbyterian or a revival is to a Pentecostal!
And silence has feet of its own, too. I have observed how silence is understood and practiced among artisans, from weavers to musicians and from writers to rowers. The beautiful thing about silence is that nobody owns it and it cannot be apportioned, sold and taxed.
July 27: How can I embody one of my deepest values today?
For some reason today’s question has gotten me thinking immediately about the phrase, “to thine own self be true,” from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The way I see it, my values, which inform and shape the way I live my life are basically on-going and the same from day-to-day. There are moments, sometimes whole days, when I am passionate about and focused on something that could be considered a personal value, though I never think of it in these terms. For myself though, I don’t have an experience of some values being deeper than others, unless, as I said, I get fired up about something!
July 28: What makes me happy? How do I know it?
The list of things that make me happy is long and wide, and for that I am grateful indeed. What’s important is that I know what they are first and foremost. And I know when I’m happy because, well, I’m happy!
July 29: What do I stand for?
As each day comes to an end I can only hope that my interactions with others throughout the day have been truthful, kind and respectful. Sprinkle in some prayer, a bit of humor and a dash of hope and joy for tomorrow and that should do it. I would consider my day, if not all my days, complete if others know me by these markers.
July 30: What are some things that are going well in my life?
I am still alive.
At 67, I am now too old to die young.
I am healing nicely from surgery.
Currently, my other moving parts are behaving.
The sun is rising as I write
And I get to live into another new day.
July 31: Everyone is facing some kind of battle. How does knowing this help me to be more kind?
A quote that has worked for me for many years is one that is often attributed to Plato: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
During my three decades of doing social work, my bottom line at the start of meeting each new person was tenderly holding the premise that people tend to speak from where they hurt. We all hurt and we all, in one way or another, are trying to get to a better place, in our heads, in our hearts or within our bodies. Keeping this in mind as I interact with people throughout the day, in each aspect of my life, has always helped to lower the battle shields with everyone I meet.