Category Archives: Mind

Laugh! It’s Good for You.

Mirth is God’s medicine. Everybody ought to bathe in it. ~Henry Ward Beecher

(Note: This is the second installment in a series about how to really live life and live it well.)

Want to really live life? If you do, then make sure you laugh on a daily basis. Not only will you feel better and experience life as more positive, you may actually help your health.

A study at the University of Maryland Medical Center, led by Dr. Michael Miller, studied the humor responses of 300 subjects and found that indeed, there may be a real connection between frequent laughter and reduced risk of heart attack. Click here to read more about the study. Miller and his colleagues suggest looking at incorporating laughter into one’s life in the same way one would include a healthy diet and exercise.

What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul. ~Yiddish Proverb

How about combining exercise and laughter into one healthy activity? Check out laughter yoga as a possibility. This practice combines unconditional laughter with yogic breathing (pranayama). It was the brainchild of an Indian physician, Dr. Madan Kataria and has grown to more than 8.000 laughter clubs in 65 countries. Click here and here for more information. Laughter yoga combines exercise, breathing, joy, and community into one healthy and affirming activity. According to the American School of Laughter Yoga, not only will practitioners see health benefits, but work productivity may increase by up to 31% Clearly, research shows we need to infuse our schools, our workplaces, our homes, and our faith communities with more laughter and joy.

Seven days without laughter makes one weak. ~Mort Walker

The photo above is a close-up of the artist Yue Minjun’s wonderful installation “Amazing Laughter” in Vancouver, British Columbia. You can read more about the artist and the sculpture here. Seeing these laughing figures, all of whom bear the artist’s face, makes one want to smile–or laugh. Look for art, for music, for theatre, film, and television that make you laugh, and incorporate some healthy laughter into every day of your life. Commit to trying it for at least 40 days, and keep a record of your progress and experience. I am certain you’ll find yourself stronger, more centered, and possessing a much more positive outlook on life. Go ahead…try it! What do you have to lose?

Now just why did the chicken cross the road? Maybe it was to listen to some fowl jokes.

Photos by Jeff Halllululemonathletica, and Matthew Grapengieser. Thanks!

Dream

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today in the United States we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his prophetic voice and vision for justice and equality. Born January 15, 1929, Dr. King was shot and killed outside the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968. One of his most powerful and oft-quoted speeches is the “I Have a Dream” speech that was delivered August 28, 1963, on the occasion of The March on Washington. Click here to watch it.

My question today is this one: What is your dream?

If someone asked you what your dream is for your faith community, your town, your nation, or this world, how would you answer? I have a dream…for what?

Today is a good time to revisit this question and to think our about our hopes and dreams. The root problems of injustice today are not that different from the problems of Dr. King’s time, or any moment in history for that matter. There have always been the haves and the have nots, the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, the acceptable and the unacceptable. The prophets have raged against these imbalances and inequities for thousands of years.

Dr. King’s words ring as true today as they did almost 50 years ago; they carry power and wisdom and weight. We continue to make some progress, and yet we continue to defer the dream of equality for all humankind.And sadly, we make all manner of excuses and equivocations for why the dream is still just that–a dream.

What then is your dream?

My dream is that all people will have enough. My dream is that we will treat this world with the care and consideration it deserves, that we will not squander our natural resources. My dream is that we will not take more for ourselves than we need, that we will share with others so that all may have enough. My dream is that our communities, particularly our faith communities, will places where all people are welcomed with open hearts and arms. My dream is that we will quit arguing and start working together, that we will lay partisan politics aside and seek justice for all, that we will become people who listen, people who respect each other, and people who will shoulder the burden together to make this world a better place. My dream is that we will act out of faith, and live out of love. I want us to choose love and life over hate and violence. I want us to see what we have in common rather than what is different.  My dream is that we will have the wisdom, the courage, and the fortitude to transform our mutual dreams into hope-filled reality.

But see, here’s the thing about dreams: we have to do something about dreams to make them come true. We have to act on our dreams rather than simply throw our pennies into life’s wishful fountain. Turning dreams into reality is work–hard, blood-sweating, and sacrificial work. Dreamers sometimes even have to lay down their lives for the sake of the dream.

Am I willing to do my part to help make my dreams come true. I hope so. I pray that by the grace of God I am able to do so. I know that if I do at least one small thing each day, if I make my choices with the dream always in mind, and if I ask others to hold me accountable to my dream, then I will live into the dream. I will stumble and fall, and I will fail. But I will continue to dream, and I will continue to act on those dreams in good faith. I ask you to hold me accountable.

Now, what is your dream, my friend? What are you doing to move it closer to reality?

Dream catcher photo by Bruce McAdam. Thanks!

Faith in One Another

You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty. – Mahatma Gandhi

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I’ve given up on so and so. It/he/she just isn’t worth the effort anymore.” It might be a friend, a faith community, an organization, or even a family member. Or maybe you’ve been privy to conversations about the dire state and depravity of humankind in general. When the mind starts spiraling in this direction, it becomes easy to become “oh, so negative,” as my friends Allen and Sally are fond of saying.

Of course, negative thoughts lead to more negative thoughts, and pretty soon the person thinking them becomes a real “Debbie Downer.” Think, I’m exaggerating? Try this little experiment: for 24 hours watch nothing but news channels (FOX, MSNBC, CNN, or any other 24-hour news outlet or combination thereof). I guarantee you’ll feel more agitated, negative, and nervy than before you began.

Instead, vow to believe in the innate goodness of humankind, indeed of all creation. For folks who read the Torah or Old Testament, the first chapter of Genesis repeatedly chronicles the Creator proclaiming the creation “good” and “very good.” That means God doesn’t create bad, broken stuff.

Sure, we can get bumped, scuffed, scraped, and broken as we journey through life. Some folks are REALLY broken and as a result do horrible things to innocent people. Some individuals act just plain mean. Evil is very real. Still…for the good of all  of us, I believe we must never, ever give up faith in humankind. Gandhi’s words are every bit as true today as they were when he first spoke/wrote them.

Or as the unknown Johannine teacher wrote in 1 John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (4:7).

Believe in the presence of good and in the restorative power of love. Keep the faith–and the faith in each other.

Thanksliving Action:

Need some positive information? Check out dailygood.org for good news that inspires and uplifts.

Photo by lel4nd. Thanks!

Thankful for Failure

You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space. — Johnny Cash

I once heard someone say that a mistake is really only a mistake if you fail to learn from it. That means mistakes and failures can be some of our best teachers, our most important investments in time and energy. The lessons we learn from what doesn’t work well can be life-changing and affirming in the long run.

How we handle failure and what we make of our mistakes makes all the difference. That’s why I like Johnny Cash’s observation about failure. Lay that failure down and walk on it; use it as a bridge to a better tomorrow and a brighter future. Take from the experience what you can use to build a stronger foundation, to try a new approach, and to blaze a new trail.

Take from the experience only that which will prevent you from making the same mistake again. Most of all, don’t let fear of failure keep you from trying again, from moving on, and from taking calculated risks in the future. Believe that you are created for a purpose and never, ever give living into that reality.

Be thankful for failure. It may be that today’s mistake or disappointment will you into tomorrow’s opportunity and success.

Here’s a wonderful short video about famous “failures” from bluefishtv.com. Enjoy!

Photo by rockinred1969. Thanks!

Consuming Mindfully

It may seem to be a simple purchase–a cheap pair of jeans, an exotic or out-of-season fruit–but how many consumers really take the time to consider the far-reaching effects of a purchase? All “stuff” has a story, and not all stories are good ones. Hopefully, we can all be more aware of how, what, and why we consume and purchase what we do. How in the world does one begin?

Dave Chameides of Care2.com offers the following list of questions consumers might wish to ask before making a purchase. He is unsure of the original author but felt it was definitely worth sharing with others, and I agree. Thirteen questions may seem like a lot to ask, but once you do it a few times you will automatically begin to think in these terms. In fact, you may not even be as tempted to make purchases.

1. Is this purchase something I need?

2. Do I already own something that will serve the same purpose?

3. Can I borrow one instead of buying new?

4. Can I make something that will serve the same purpose?

5. Can I buy a used one?

6. Would someone be willing to split the cost and share this with me?

7. Can I buy or commission one made locally?

8. Can I buy one that was made with environmentally responsible materials?

9. Can I buy one that serves more than one purpose?

10. Can I get something human powered instead of gas or electric?

11. Can I compost or recycle it when I’m done with it?

12. What is the impact on the environment of the full life cycle of it?

13. Does the manufacture or disposal of it damage the environment?

For me, mindful consumption is part of what it means to love my neighbor as myself. Since all that I do has a potential impact on neighbors near and far, I must carefully consider the way I use my time, resources, and purchasing power.

To Consider:

What questions do you ask before making a purchase and choosing to consume?

How can we all be more mindful of our decisions and how they impact others?

Check out The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. This short film is well worth watching and may just change your life (and the lives of many others).

Photo by Coffee Core. Thanks!

Grab a Good Book…and then share it!

“The greatest gift is the passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination.” –Elizabeth Hardwick

I am thankful for the gift of good books. Nothing gives me as much pleasure as sitting down to read a book (except maybe for a good cup of tea or coffee and some music to accompany said book). Perhaps you read this poem by Emily Dickinson when you were in high school or college:

There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any any courses like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll.
How frugal is the chariot
That bears the human soul.
 

How easy it is for us to take this gift for granted! Whether one prefers an e-reader or the feel of an actual book in hand, the ability to read is a treasure that should not be ignored. In fact, one of the greatest gifts a person can give to a child is to pass along and foster the love of reading. I read to my girls nightly when they were young, and now both of them read and have a love for words.

Speaking of reading, I’m going to close and go read one of the good books waiting on my nightstand. How about you? What are you reading right now?

Act of Thanksliving–

Don’t hoard your books! Consider these options for keeping your library light and others in good reading material:

1) Swap a book with a friend to double your reading pleasure,

2) Pass along a good book to a friend with absolutely no expectation of return,

3) Once you have read a book, donate it to your local library for their book sale,

4) Sign up for Paperbackswap.com and trade books with others for only the cost of postage,

5) Leave a book with a note in it about what you enjoyed in a public place for someone else to enjoy and pass along,

6) Give extra books to your local women’s or homeless shelters, or

7) give books to your local schools that are appropriate for English curricula or other courses.

The most important thing is to share your bounty and involve others in the gift of reading. An important part of thanksliving is sharing and learning to let go of possessions. Open hands and open hearts yield mighty and delightfully unexpected returns.

Photo by Horia Varlan used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Seeing Sunflowers

The question is not what you look at, but what you see. — Henry David Thoreau

It is August, 2006. Dianne and I are taking our two middle-school-age children to summer camp. Dianne is making good time in her green sedan, deftly navigating a series of uncrowded eastern North Dakota highways. We haven’t known each other long, a few weeks at most, so this Sunday afternoon drive provides plenty of opportunity to move beyond the surface-level chatter that so often marks the early encounters of a developing friendship.

Despite the flow of easy conversation, I am distracted by the fields of ripening sunflowers that we pass along the way. Myriad bright yellow flowers dance with the breeze, exuding happiness, signaling summer, and signifying joy to me. The sight of row upon row of these butter-yellow beauties turning their heavy heads upward toward the sun captivates my imagination. I can’t take my eyes off of them.

To Dianne the sunflowers symbolize something entirely different–the reality that winter will soon return to the prairie with icy blast and frosty roar. I have not yet experienced a North Dakota winter, so Dianne’s association with these lovely golden flowers is a foreign one to me. Winter seems far away; August means humid, sweltering dog days and languorous summer nights to this Southern girl. A daughter of the prairie, Dianne also sees sunflowers in economic terms, as a crop to be monitored and assessed rather than the subject of a tourist’s photo shoot. Yes, of course she appreciates the sunflower’s beauty, but she “sees” something different, something beyond my field of vision on this bucolic August afternoon.

It is January, 2013, and I am sitting in my home office in Pennsylvania. I have just returned from North Dakota. It was not a pleasure trip, although it is always good to visit friends, breathe the prairie air, and revel in the vastness of the land and sky. This time I went to help lay to rest my dear friend Paula, to assist in honoring her life’s work and faith witness, and to mourn with friends and family her sudden and too-early passing. It is winter. It is cold. There are no sunflowers to cheer the spirit. Only snow and sadness cover the stalk-stubbled prairie fields.

I now “see” too keenly what Dianne sees in the sunflowers. The glorious brightness of the blossom is not the ultimate end. Winter comes with its darkness and desolation. Snow casts a funereal pall across the quiet earth. And winter comes also to our lives, as loss and loneliness cover the naked soil of the soul.

Yet winter will yield to spring, and a fresh crop of sunflowers will push their hardy shoots through the fragrant, freshly-turned prairie soil. Yes, the sunflowers will return again–hopeful, bright, trusting. And riotously joyous, always joyous. As the psalmist reminds us, “weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5).

I’m told that North Dakota farmers are planting fewer and fewer fields of sunflowers. Nationwide; the USDA forecasts a drop of about eighteen percent in sunflower acres planted. It’s a crop that must be shared with birds, and there haven’t been as many price insurance options in recent years. Other crops promise better yield and more favorable return, so naturally there may be fewer fields of flowers. Farming, like life, is rife with risk. The only truly certain thing is the present moment, and each moment is a seed of hope ready to be sown.

I will again plant sunflowers this spring in Pennsylvania. In fact, I will plant more than last year’s few token plants. I want to see an abundance of those sturdy stalks balancing massive flowering heads, heavy with seed and promise. Planting and tending them is an act both of defiant joy and of fond remembrance:  defiant joy from “seeing” them not as a harbinger of winter and desolation but rather of creation’s beauty and God’s abundance, and also as a fond remembrance of my Dakota days and some very dear friends.

Reflect:

What do you “see” when you gaze upon a field of sunflowers? What might you need to “see” differently?

Photos by travelmanitoba, DJ Flickr, Daniel Knecht, hulio82, and one sharp eye. Thanks!

Embracing Mystery

To see a world in a grain of sand,

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

– William Blake

I enjoy spending time around children because they remind me of how to live each moment fully, how to examine the world with eyes of love and wonder, and how to embrace mystery as a natural part of what it means to be alive. Somehow, between childhood and adulthood, we manage to squelch this wonderful approach to living and replace it with something far less satisfying, what we term “realistic” and “appropriate” and “logical.”

Somehow along the way we build fences, construct walls, and organize life into neat categories of black and white, right and wrong, in and out, cool and uncool. Because of our human desire to “know” and control our life and destiny, we strive for certainty and mastery. We seek to acquire and cling to rather than experience and ponder. In the process, largely unintentionally, we lose our ability to embrace the mystery of the universe.

Have you ever watched a child experience the natural world? Have you seen how each flower is its own universe to be explored, how every bird and animal is marvelous and wonderful to behold? Remember how mud puddles are for jumping in–not avoided–and garden hoses are destined to be fountains rather than simply conduits for H2O? Little children don’t watch clocks. They don’t hurry past when something catches their fancy. They are honest and inquisitive and, well, real.

Children not only accept mystery, they embrace and are enthralled by it. Mystery and wonder are partners in living. Once upon a time signals a story worth listening to, and music is made to inspire a silly whirl of a dance. A child sees no reason to argue about whether the world was created in seventy days or seventy million days. The world was created, and it’s really cool; that’s what matters.

What would it take for you to recapture and embrace the mystery of life in this new year? Is it possible for you to take off your watch, shut off your cell phone, put on some music and dance like a kindergartner until you fall down exhausted? Can you spare an hour to walk in the woods, to taste snowflakes, and yes, to stomp in a puddle? Will you treasure and ponder the mystery that you are, the gift of life that the Creator has given you, and the wonders and delights of this beautiful world? I hope you will. I pray you will.

We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. — Annie Dillard

Photos by AlicePopkorn and vastateparksstaff. Thanks!

Don’t Worry…Be Grateful!

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? — Matthew 6:25-26 (NRSV)

Yesterday I wrote about fear and how it can prevent one from living a life of joy and thanks-living. Today I want to address one of fear’s first cousins–worry. Fear and worry like to hang out together. There’s safety in numbers and misery, too.

Worry prevents a person from fully enjoying and embracing life. This emotion refuses to live in the present. While it rarely dwells long in the past, it looks to the future with an anxious eye and hesitant air. Worry’s favorite words are “What if…?” It loves to ask questions like “What if there’s not enough money?” and “What if I lose my job?” or “What if I get really sick?” or even “What if the sky falls tomorrow?”

Unless you’re closely related to Chicken Little, you have no business embracing worry as a bosom buddy or “kissin’ cousin.” Throw worry right out the door. NOW! Worry does not have your best interests at heart and certainly doesn’t want you to live joyfully and thankfully in the present moment.

Worrying about the future will not likely change anything; instead, you’ll only miss or fail to enjoy the present. And let’s face it folks; the present moment is the only one we have control over.

So skip the worry. Live mindfully in the present. Enjoy what you’ve been given. Determine that you have enough, that you are blessed abundantly, and that you have much to share with and give to others. Life is good, God is good, and you are good enough, too.

And now for something a little bit different…

If you still doubt it and feel inclined to worry, then take a listen to this classic rendition of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin. See if you can identify the two other guys in the video. (Sorry about the ad. You can click to skip it after five seconds.)

Photo by Elizabeth Audrey. Thanks!

Dream Boldly

“Why are you scared to dream of god when it’s salvation that you want?” — Conor Oberst (American singer and song writer)

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about fear and what it does to people. Fear is a basic emotion. It can be experienced as a response to perceived danger or risk, or it may be expressed as a response to something disliked. What fear is “not” is the place we are to dwell. Living in fear is not the Creator’s plan for any of us.

In fact, scripture has plenty to say about not being fearful. There are at least 365 references to living without fear–one for every day of the year. A couple of my favorite passages are from Deuteronomy and Psalms:

Be strong, be bold, don’t be afraid or frightened of them, for Adonai your God is going with you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. –Deuteronomy 31:6 (CJB)

Adonai is my light and salvation;

whom do I need to fear?

Adonai is the stronghold of my life;

of whom should I be afraid? Psalm 27:1 (CJB)

I think for some folks fear is a crutch to keep them from dreaming boldly and from believing fully. I remember Macbeth’s words to his wife from Shakespeare’s timeless play of the same name “If we should fail?” (1.7.58) Of course they are plotting mayhem and murder to ensure Macbeth’s rise to power, not brave, bold thanks-living. But still, fear cripples Macbeth as surely as it does any human–for good or ill intent.

Fear can keep you from experiencing deep, satisfying relationships. Fear can prevent you from taking risks that will lead to amazing rewards (both tangible and intangible). Fear can stifle creativity and prevent you from reaching your potential. Fear can keep you from being generous and sharing.  Fear can prevent you from flying and achieving your wildest dreams. In short, fear can lead to inept decisions that keep a person small, selfish, and short-sighted.

So on this second day of 2013, I wish you a year without fear. Just let it go. Refuse to give fear power over you, your emotions, and your actions. Let go of fear and see what the Creator of the Universe can work in and through you. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

Reflect:

How has fear prevented you from achieving something you wanted or dreamed about?

What one thing are you afraid of that you can let go in 2013?

How can you release your fear and harness your hopeful dreams of God’s goodness and mercy?

Photo by Martin Finch. Thanks!