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Monday, August 29, 2016

Learning how to be...

Old-Fashioned

E-mails, phone calls, web sites, videos. They're all letters, basically, and they've come to outnumber old fashioned conversation. They are the conversation now.”
Walter Kirn

I have to tell you, I hate this about modern life. Believe me, I use all these devices and distractions every single day, but I really miss snail mail and face-to-face conversation. As a person who lives alone and works alone most of the time, sitting down to a nice meal, a glass of wine, and a good friend who loves conversation is the pentacle of pleasure. I don't know if that's an age-thing, or not—my friends have begun teasing me about where the good cafeterias are since I'm now in the category of folks who might frequent them.

I have fond memories of going to the post office, checking for mail in the ornate metal box, the smell of it, the excitement of seeing an envelope in the tiny enclosure. I remember waiting impatiently, counting the days for a response from a friend or lover. My grandmother, Mama, wrote long newsy letters. I still have a few. And of course, the thin blue air-mail envelopes that came from men at war. I know it's old fashioned, but then so am I, so it's okay. I love it when we get vintage postcards to list on eBay. The brilliant calligraphy is a lost art. Sometimes, just the scrolling signature is worth the price.

So you'll understand how excited I am that my friend, Cedric, a writer himself, who's away at graduate school, asked if we could communicate by letter writing. I jumped on it. I sat down yesterday and drew a little picture of the journey—the road through the mountains, the city in the distance, his car making its way there. It will be on the front of his first letter from me. You see, it's the very personal nature of the communication that makes all the difference when you hand-write a letter. It takes time to prepare the material, to compose your words, to decide what's worth writing about. You put a lot of yourself into it, and that comes through. It says I care enough about you to give this some thought. It's like a good conversation on paper.

If you have time today, instead of sending an email or a tweet, write a soulful little note to someone you care about. Put your thoughts down on paper, share yourself in this private and personal way. It's really okay to be old-fashioned.

                                                             In the Spirit,

                                                                 Jane

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Savage Joy!

Dance Then

Every savage can dance.”
Jane Austen

Count me in! I grew up in a family that loved music. My dad sang—a deep baritone. My mother could swing-dance and jitterbug. My grandmother played the piano like nobody's business. One of the earliest pieces of furniture in our home, even though we could barely feed ourselves, was a big, old console radio/record player. Music was always playing, and I danced like a mad dog from the time I could stand up. So, count me happily among the savages.

My first husband could not relax enough to dance. He did an off-beat box-step no matter what the music. As we say down South when something is inexplicable, “Bless his heart.” My second husband danced like a stripper—all body jiggling and dirty dog. It was not a pretty sight, but at least he was moved by the beat of the music. I dated a guy for a while who square danced—he carried around diagrams of the complicated moves and partner switches. You needed a special costume and cowboy boots. For me, that was like figuring out an algebra equation—not fun in the least.

In the Gnostic Gospel, Acts of John, written in the second century, Jesus teaches his disciples a song and a round dance. He tells them: “If you don't dance, you will never understand who God is...” I suppose that scripture is the inspiration behind the Celtic hymn, “Lord of the Dance:”

Dance, then, wherever you may be
I am the Lord of the dance said he
And I'll lead you all wherever you may be
And I'll lead you all in the dance said he.”
(The Dubliners)

Spontaneous movement to music is as old as humanity itself, and is the body's expression of pure delight. It can be a meditation, a celebration, or a prayer. You don't have to take lessons, you don't have to look cool, you don't have to win contests, or get hopped up on drugs and alcohol—you just let the music move through you.

I hope today you'll tap into your inner savage and dance your heart out. Nothing is better for the soul.

                                                           In the Spirit,
                                                               Jane



Saturday, August 27, 2016

Simplify Life

New Normal

We often get into work situations, social situations, commitments, volunteer obligations, sports routines, and other types of activities that complicate our lives. We stay in them far longer than we need because it looks good on paper, or because it sounds good when we have the opportunity to drop it into conversations, or because in some way it meets our own or someone else's expectations of the kinds of things we think we should be doing.”
Elaine St. James (Living the Simple Life: A Guide to Scaling Down & Enjoying More)

A very pivotal birthday looms on my horizon. I will be 70 next month. It's an age when I can no longer consider myself middle-aged, and even though active and vigorous now, w-e-l-l, how long can that possibly last? Time is of the essence. I was at dinner with some friends last weekend, and, while the food was quite good, there was so much noise in the restaurant we couldn't hear each other speak. Conversation just ebbed away. It wasn't fun. It felt as though we were all going through the motions of doing something normal and expected, but nothing about it was truly sociable or enjoyable.

There is a new normal for me. I don't want to keep hanging on to the old normal, but it's hard, isn't it? We have strong internal and external messages about social involvement that we use to calculate our worth, our acceptability, our belonging factor, and even our vigor. Withdrawing from life is not advisable or healthy, but developing new ways of being in life is. Like everyone else, I enjoy going out to eat, trying new restaurants, meeting friends; but from now on, I will discriminate in favor of those places that have a more intimate environment. We adapt; we respect ourselves enough to let go of things that no longer grow corn for us.

This applies equally to volunteer projects, work, and social commitments. I don't know about you, but it is in my nature to over-commit; to get myself into obligations that tax my endurance. When I do that for long enough, I get cranky and exhausted. I push people away with bad tempered rhetoric. Can you relate to that? Do you over-commit? In order for all of life to be enjoyable, productive, and genuinely gracious, we sometimes have to rein in our horses and take a break.

It's the weekend. Take a little time to decompress. Give yourself permission to not be acceptably productive and exhaustingly normal. Let life lead you.

                                                              In the Spirit,

                                                                  Jane

Friday, August 26, 2016

Simple Solution

Kindness

Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
Albert Schweitzer

I attended another training session for Faith in Action-Alabama last night. The meeting went three and a half hours. Have I ever mentioned how much I hate meetings? My whole day had been a sprint, and the last thing on earth I wanted was to sit in a meeting all evening. I got lost in the church parking lot. It is one of those massive Southern churches with about eight thousand members that even has its own parking deck, for God's sake! All the doors I tried were locked, and I ended up in a pristine columbarium garden surrounded by dead people. The temperature outside was 97 degrees. To say I was in a foul mood by the time I found my way in is a monstrous understatement. Absolutely nothing in me wanted to be there. And then I met Eva.

Eva is a woman a little younger than I, who grew up with seven brothers and sisters, and lived for most of her childhood in a housing project with a single mother. Her grandmother looked after the Eva and her siblings so her mother could work in other people's homes and raise other people's children. By the age of seven, she was taking care of the house, and cooking for her little brothers and sisters. Eva grew up, had three children of her own that she managed to raise, educate, and keep out of harm's way. She told me of the four-block-out-of-the-way journey they took, on foot, to the nearest grocery store, to avoid the white neighborhood, where they were not welcome. She worked in nursing care facilities, and in people's homes, and when her children were grown, she went back to school and got a degree in nursing. Last year, she took early retirement to recover from breast cancer. From the beginning to the end of her story, there was nothing but kindness and generosity in her voice, or on her face. Her story was not a lament, it was told with pride and honesty. It melted my heart.

The questions that arise in my mind around all this: Why are we still having this conversation in 2016? Why are there still human beings who are struggling to be considered equal and worthy? It seems to be something that humanity could have, and should have worked out by now. The only solution is to have the same kindness and generosity that Eva brings to the world every day. I hope I can muster even half as much.

                                                       In the Spirit,
                                                            Jane



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wrestling with Darkness...

Bearing Light

But if I've learned anything, it is that goodness prevails, not in the absence of reasons to despair, but in spite of them. If we wait for clean heroes and clear choices and evidence on our side to act, we will wait forever...the people who bring light into the world wrench it from darkness and contend openly with darkness all of their days...”
Krista Tippett (Speaking of Faith)

This morning at daybreak the clouds were lit from beneath. The bright white ones were overlaid with dark gray. Beautiful sight, the meaning of which is not lost. I remember the first time I flew in an airplane. I was twenty years old, newly married and on my way to see my husband graduate from Officer Candidate School in San Antonio. Once we got to altitude, I looked down on that solid layer of blindingly white clouds and thought that I must be very near to God—this must be what the angels see when they look down from heaven. You can see how na├»ve I was, how inexperienced with the ways of the world. After that came years of war in Vietnam, trucking around from base to base, separation, divorce, despair and some very dark days. But I did not forget that light on the clouds or the feeling of closeness to God.

There will always be darkness in this world; within us individually and collectively. The very best we can do as human beings is to see it clearly, claim our part in it with as much honesty as we can muster, and try our best to shine a light when possible. We will not vanquish the darkness—it is part of nature—ours and the universe's. We can only be aware of it, and not in denial that it dwells within us. Recognizing our own demons, wresting with them, not allowing them to have the final word, is what gives rise to consciousness. And conscious people carry light into the world.

                                                        In the Spirit,

                                                           Jane

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Are you a born leader?

Leadership

Leadership is not a popularity contest; it's about leaving your ego at the door. The name of the game is to lead without a title.”
Robin Sharma

Leadership is on the minds of most of the people in the world at present. What kind of leaders do we want? What are our leaders doing, or not doing? What are the ethics of our leaders? Do they care about us? And so forth, and so on. Regardless of where you live on planet Earth, questions about leadership are front and center. Perhaps we're looking in all the wrong places for those who would lead us.

Real leaders are people who simply put their pants on and go to work everyday. They listen and consider. They roll up their sleeves and get involved. They value the ideas and experience of others, especially those who are actually doing the job. Natural born leaders are not focused on their own aggrandizement, nor their own bottom line. They are there to get the work done in the most efficient and effective manner possible, while still treating their co-workers with equanimity and respect. People will work hard for a leader who recognizes their value and rewards them for it, even if those rewards are not monetary.

Robin Sharma, Canadian business leader and writer, says, “The respect you give others is a dramatic reflection of the respect you give yourself.” Treating others with sarcasm and condescension are sure signs of a weak and wounded personality. That person will lead only by coercion and entitlement. That person is likely to dictate rather than discuss and negotiate. Determination to have one's own way regardless of the consequences to others is not a trait of a worthy leader.

Leadership is, or should be, earned through respect and common sense. The ability to see the big picture is critical. Knowing what the fall-out from one's actions will be, and caring about the outcome for others is also crucial. You can be that kind of leader no matter what you do for a living. Leadership is not a hierarchical thing, it's a soul thing. Let's look at those who would lead us from the perspective of what kind of heart they bring to their work. That's what truly matters.

                                                              In the Spirit,

                                                                   Jane

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Want to feel good today?

Forgive Everybody

It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
Maya Angelou

Sometimes it takes a while to forgive someone who's wronged you. Judgment sits like a stone in your heart, solid and heavy. Every time their name is mentioned, every time something reminds you of them, the weight of that stone gets heavier. Either it takes over your entire heart, or you have to let it go. Forgiveness may never be earned—one cannot undo what has been done. It must be freely given with no strings attached.

Another truth about forgiveness is that it sends positive energy forward and backward in time. It heals the stone in your own heart, and it heals the one in their heart, too. Even if the person who wronged you is no longer living, your forgiveness frees their soul of stain. In lifting the weight of judgment from your own heart, you become lighter and less resentful, blessing the people around you and giving them something to emulate. Your ability to forgive and forget may influence them to do the same.

In the words of Maya Angelou: “I'm convinced of this: Good done anywhere is good done everywhere...As long as you're breathing, it's never too late to do some good.” The ability to forgive is good all around.

                                                       In the Spirit,

                                                           Jane