Rise Up Reflections November 2016

Welcome to my continuing series of reflections that I call Rise Up Reflections November 2016. Each year, saying farewell to fall and hello to colder weather and the coming of the holidays always makes life interesting year after year! And the daily questions answered this month were also rich and varied too. My favorites? Perhaps Nov 2; Nov 17, which lead to its own blog post [HERE], Nov 23, in which I recall a family friend who died too soon; And Nov 24, which lead me to share a spiritual experience that I had many years ago that I seldom ever mention. So that’s a month lived well and with gratitude.

Thanks for visiting.

Rise Up Reflections November 2016

Nov 1: How does love relate to gratefulness in my life?

How could love not be related to gratefulness? For me the awareness and expression of love is fluid and flows among people, places, even objects constantly, both abstract and physically. And when I am paying attention, which is important, it is impossible for me not to experience joy, appreciation and a sensation of sheer wonder for all the many ways that love ripples through my day.

Nov 2: What would I miss most if it was no longer here?

I’m glad that the question asks “what would I miss” and not “who would I miss” the most because that would be torturous to answer. In the “missing it” department I would have to say that I would miss the Internet the most. Being able to communicate online with many people from various places around the earth allows me to learn from others and to share my writing and photography widely. That is such a luxury and inexpensive gift in itself.

Nov 3: How can I live more simply?

I could live more simply by wanting less, taking less and learning to live with less. But will I? To be honest, probably not. Why? Because, and at the risk of sounding crass, I don’t need to and nothing at the moment is requiring me to do so. And that, for many of us living here in the States, is the norm of our day-to-day lives. Oh for sure, I’m always looking for ways to lighten my load, to do with less. But who am I kidding? Five minutes after leaving this site I may be clicking “add to cart” on Amazon.

In my professional life I’ve known people who lived hand-to-mouth, who had virtually nothing, yet who were grateful, even joy filled, for the few things that they did have. They never thought of themselves as living simply. They were simply finding a way to live.

Rise Up Reflections November 2016. Image of Ruth Howland in 2014
My late friend Ruth, who lived her life simply and with great joy.

I’ve known people of ample means, even well off, who leave their Lexus in the garage and ride their bike all over town, who grow all their own produce, who knit up a storm, and wear tattered old jackets by choice and with pride. Are they living more simply?

In my life I’ve known maybe three or four people who lived their lives simply, robustly and with unstated purpose. They were, and are, the real deal. I never heard them utter the words “living simply.”

Nov 4: What is this moment offering?

Almost everything! At this moment I have the ability and freedom to create, to think, feel, plan and take action by charting my course on how I want to live into this day. When I step back and view the day just now unfolding ahead of me the opportunities are nothing short of breathtaking.

Nov 5: My desires can direct me to a more fulfilled life. What do I desire for my life? For the world?

I desire and have achieved a comfortable level of peace in my personal life. I wish that I could deliver the same for the world in which we live. Beyond desire, I am aware of an inner longing, that never seems to be quite satisfied, to be a conduit of purpose and comfort to others who might view my photography or read what I’ve written and occasionally be lifted anew. This is happening in small and gentle ways already for which I am grateful. Yet still, the awareness of longing remains and I wonder just what that all means.

Nov 6: If I could live ONE day over, what day would it be? Why?

One of my earliest spiritual mentors was Jim Toothaker, a gentle, sometimes artfully mischievous Quaker minister who passed away almost 25 years ago now. There wasn’t an established rule or norm in religious circles that Jim couldn’t challenge and sometimes set on its ear or least get people to examine more closely for its deeper meaning. I’d jump at the chance to spend just one more day with Jim Toothaker.

Nov 7: Who is one of the kindest people I know? What can I learn from his/her kindness?

I’d have to say that it would be my friend John Calvi, who is a healer, speaker and Quaker author living in Vermont. John exudes a sense of calm and inner joy in whatever setting he finds himself in. I don’t see him as often as I’d like, but when I do, I enjoy watching him practice his healing work, essentially a ministry of touch and words, with others and occasionally on me as well.

There are many things that we can learn from others whom we admire. But with some people, we experience them, emotionally and spiritually, beyond what we might learn from them. And John Calvi is one of these people.

Nov 8: How can I foster greater curiosity and appreciation about people?

Generally speaking, I am currently satisfied with my levels of curiosity and appreciation of people. Those levels always increase, however, whenever I strive to get out of my own head and truly pay attention and listen fully to what another person may be saying and feeling while I am in their presence. For me, that’s the most important thing to do.

Nov 9: How/when has someone given me time to be “broken” and waited, patiently, believing in my ultimate wholeness?

As a person who is shocked and trying to digest the unexpected outcome of the US elections yesterday, it looks like Donald Trump has given me a time to be broken politically and somewhat emotionally. Time will tell, politically speaking, which contain also my personal values, when my sense of wholeness will return. It will be interesting.

Nov 10: How is where I live a blessing?

There is not a day that goes by when I am not reminded of my good fortune to have a warm, safe house to live in and enjoy every day that sits in a seacoast community here in southeastern New England.

I may be splitting hairs here, but it causes me some pause to think of myself as being blessed to live where I do, or that I am blessed in any way, period. I know that the word “blessed is used to amply what is good or deeply appreciated in one’s life, but the word also means having a sacred nature and/or being connected with God. I have trouble squaring that with folks who are homeless, who are sleeping on grates and park benches. Who decides who is blessed and who is not?

Nov 11: How can/do I honor the interconnectedness of all life?

By living my life in such a way that is mindful of and engaged with the sacredness of life all around me in whatever setting I may be.

Nov 12: My body is a miracle of art, science, and mystery. What is it teaching me?

That I am mortal and that I am getting old! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

In another hour I’ll leave to go rowing in New Bedford Harbor with my teammates called the “Gray Buzzards.” We’ve been together now going on 15 years. The oldest teammate is 83 and the youngest is in his early 50’s! We’re mostly men with one woman who of course never ages. We row (six at a time), we talk, and we cherish the sunrises, the air, the water and the very mystery of our lives and that we for this moment at least are all still here.

Nov 13: What does it mean to live wholeheartedly?

If I can continue to seek that of the wonder and spirit in people and places, to dare to laugh and to cry as situations allow and to explore new experiences, to take reasonable risks, this for myself at least is to live wholeheartedly.

Nov 14: What can I look at with fresh eyes today?

Today’s “Word for the Day” by Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” is what I am holding onto for reflection and some comfort in the wake of last week’s US elections. I am still trying to seek my footing moving forward. Dr. King’s words are helping to give me the outlook I need, to have fresh eyes and to prepare for the longer road ahead.

Nov 15: What communities bring me energy and joy? How can I help them thrive?

For starters, my local Quaker faith community brings me the deepest and longest lasting joy. I can only hope and pray that my full participation, prayerfully and physically, helps to nurture, sustain and safeguard our existence into the future.

Next, I’d say that my rowing team, who have been together now going on fifteen years, provides enormous joy, exercise and camaraderie. Being on the water two to three times a week, seeing the sun rise, or set as we row along also heightens and deepens our spiritual lives too. I steer for this band of good people….twelve in all, and it’s my job to keep us all safe while we’re out there, and from this we all thrive.

And finally, my response to today’s question wouldn’t be complete without also expressing my gratitude to the good people who run and participate at Gratefulness.org. I am grateful for all of you!

Nov 16: What vulnerabilities in others awaken my greatest impulse to be of service?

Since 1976, a corner post of my work with young people whether in social work, ministry or community youth service programs, has been and continues still to support children and teens that have been abused and victimized by adults. It may take the form of helping to shelter, of filing officially, counseling, or just being a safe adult friend to help them heal and discover new hope.

These days, I now advise others who are doing this work as way opens. In recent years I am told that my photography and writing have also helped people heal, too. And this, for direction and guidance, I pray into most often and wait for new leadings.

Nov 17: How can I be a source of delight for others?

Oh, by just being my loving and adorable self! Ha! At first blush, today’s question just strikes me as being a bit funny and the only way I can do anything with it is to have fun with it.

Then again, “delight” is an interesting word because we generally use it to describe something or someone else and never ourselves. I know a few people who always seem to radiate joy and delight just from being in their presence and without a word being said. It seems to flow through their eyes and faces, a kind of delightful energy of love and grace unseen but surely felt. I should look on Amazon and order some!

Nov 18: Who are some of my heroes? How and why do they inspire me?

I seldom think of people living past or present as heroes in my life. I admire many people for different reasons depending on who they are, what they did or how they may have influenced my life. I would not have enough time within an hour to list them all here. But for sure, I know who they are, and for that and their place in my life I remain grateful indeed.

Nov 19: How can tomorrow reflect what I am learning today?

Truthfully? By trying my best to remember what it was that I learned the day before! It seems that sometimes I need to learn a lesson more than once before owning it.

Nov 20: When does my generosity feel most generous?

If I am rating my generosity in terms of how each instance makes me feel, is it truly generosity or is it self-congratulations?

Nov 21: Babies can experience and express a lot of joy. What can we learn from them about joy?

As adults, we marvel at how babies unabashedly express any number of emotions in response to their surroundings without hesitation. Regarding joy, I wonder how it would feel, and be received, if I allowed myself to do the same thing, without applying the filter of pre-thinking much of the time? I am aware that I do express joy spontaneously in certain settings and less so in other situations. For better or worse, I suggest it’s a consequence of being an adult.

Nov 22: How does gratefulness nurture respect? How does respect nurture gratefulness?

In my mind it seems like respect is a close cousin of gratefulness. And if so, then each nurtures the other as way opens.

Nov 23: What could I share with, or teach, others today?

Given that it’s the day before Thanksgiving, my wife and I are in full prep mode for the 19 people coming to our house tomorrow. Until late afternoon today, it’s likely I won’t see or interact with anyone outside of our home for most of the daytime hours. I would be happy to share the vacuuming, dusting, floor mopping and kitchen cleanup that I do around my wife who is the chef in the house! But alas, it will be just us and the dog and the cat—and all they do us create more work! Ha!

At four this afternoon I’ll pay my respects to a wonderful person, who died at age 86 and devoted her life of service to her students and community for over 60 years. And at seven tonight I will join a few Quakers for mid-week worship in our meetinghouse, with much to be grateful and thankful for on this day before Thanksgiving.

Nov 24: What is a “just-in-time” moment that you are grateful for?

In hindsight I am aware of several “just in time” moments in my life for which I am grateful for. But if I had to choose one I’d have to say that it was the moment I underwent a spiritual conversion in 1977. I was literally standing in the shower with water cascading over me when I suddenly heard and felt the sound of what I believed to be that of the Holy Spirit speaking directly to me. A voice was calling my name, so much so that I flung the shower curtain open and looked around the bathroom thinking that someone, perhaps my wife or one of our young children at the time was talking to me. But I was home alone. The house was empty, or so I thought.  After a few moments that sound, that sensation, an energy really, went away. But the moment I stepped out of that shower my life had changed forever.

It took me three weeks to feel able to tell my wife about what I had experienced. Shortly thereafter I began attending a nearby Quaker meeting and have been doing so ever since. I rarely speak or write about that experience long ago. But with my whole heart and soul I know that that moment came just in time and it changed everything I would do for the rest of my life.

Note: The entry above prompted a number of responses from people who participate daily in the Gratefulness.org forum. But one person, whom I will call “B,” asked me some specific questions which I answered in detail. If interested, you can read my response to “B” by clicking here.

Nov 25: What blessings does nature offer my life?

Nature, be it open fields, forests and for me the ocean in particular, offers inspiration, rest, renewal and sanctuary.

Nov 26: What things would I most like to learn at this time in my life?

In addition to contributing dollars now and then to panhandlers at stoplights, I’d like to learn or hear about a better way to support these people in need.

I’d like to learn constructive ways, beyond having the mindset of an apologist, how best to lessen or minimize the impact of my own “white privilege” in ways that would be meaningful to others who are affected by it.

I will definitely need to learn how to cope and continue living in a country with a new president whose values I deplore.

As a person who seldom watches TV, I also want to learn how to use our new remote to get to the children’s programs without needing to hand it over to my six year-old granddaughter!

Nov 27: How am I treating the world today?

Upon  the speck of the world that I am occupying today, where I walk, breathe and live, I strive as best I can to preserve and protect our environment and resources and avoid being wasteful to the best of my ability.

As for the world itself, I attempt to stay informed of developments worldwide that impact people and the health of the planet, to raise my voice in support of addressing the wrongs and to pray for healing and for peace.

Nov 28: What thoughts can I let go of today which will significantly improve my capacity to be present?

Oftentimes while doing mundane tasks and chores around the house, including some planned household projects, I’m also thinking about photography, or writing or wishing I was out walking our dog—or doing anything but what I am trying not to do. Yet, when I’m not doing these routine chores I’m not exactly doing the things that I wish I had been doing anyway! Oh how the mind likes to wander! Now and then it occurs to me that if I focused on the task at hand fully then I’d probably enjoy doing it more and get it done sooner. But hey, that would make just too much sense!

Nov 29: Can I pause today before I react to a situation before me?

Yes, I can. I have that choice. Most of the time I do remember to pause before I react to a situation. It’s the times when I don’t remember that I wish that I had.

Nov 30: Who is a role model for contentment in my life? Why?

Our dog Gracie. Despite going blind five months ago, today she seems very happy and content with her life and within her surroundings. Using her nose, ears and whiskers, she’s thoroughly “mapped” out our entire property, inside and out. I look at her sometimes and think, my gosh, how would I be doing today if I lost my eyesight as suddenly as she did?

Rise Up Reflections November 2016. Gracie

Text and images by K. Lee