Archive for the ‘goodness’ Category

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:26

Jesus offers an invitation.

Look!

Instead of worrying, look.

Look at the birds, or the rain, or a family member, or even something as simple as your good food, even if it imperfect or limited.

It was and is provided. Be grateful. This is mental health. Gratitude for the present replaces worry about the future.

Looking is therapy!

Seeing what is present and understanding why and how it is present is healing. What is present is grace. What we worry over is not, it is a kind of self-inflicted punishment. Worry rushes from the present to live in a tortuous future.

But to look at the in-your-face good is to enter into a divine reality, to pick up a spirit of gratitude, a sense of safety, and this drives us away from our obsessive tendency to worry.

I am practicing this today. This morning I felt the fluffy of my cat which is the same fluffy of my sweet wife’s bathrobe. Comfort there.

I listen to the rain. I listen to the soft flicker of the fire. I listen to the click of the refrigerator door. The microwave plays a four note tune to tell me it has heated my drink properly.

Wisdom is about the present, noticing the beauty of the present, as it is, being grateful for the things smack dab in front of us without wanting them to be different.

“Look” said Jesus. Look at what is around you that reminds you that God is present, that he is in control, that he is taking care of the smallest things.

Look and see, God is all over the abc’s, the basics, the 1,2,3’s of living. Understand the beauty of what is now, the “what” or the “whatness” of our everyday life. To see and appreciate this is to make friends with reality and with God.

When we ground ourselves in the sentient now and revel in immediate “here” — the sounds, smells, colors that waft over the sides of our boats, the sensory gift fish we happen to haul in today, then we are following Jesus and making peace with ourselves and our world.

One of the ways that we derive acute meaning and pleasure and see beauty in life lies in our ability to experience the quiddity or essence of persons or things.

Rembrandt’s genius was his unparalleled ability to render a person’s quiddity in a single portrait.

My wife’s genius, her quiddity, lies in her ability to see a problem and devise a solution that helps another person get something they need.

The word quiddity originated in the Latin word quid meaning “what.” Quiddity was defined by the ancients as the real nature of a thing; its essence.

In medieval scholastic philosophy “quiddity” quidditas literally meant “whatness.” For these philosophers quiddity described properties that a particular substance ( say a person) shared in with others of its kind, and so entails a description by way of commonality.

The quest for a quiddity represents a romantic and idealistic human quest for meaning. It represents a way of thinking, an effort to get to a main thing, something bordering on a quest for universals, something Platonic, a quest for the Plato’s forms, something that helps us understand a complex thing in a simple way.

And yet it’s not so high flying as all that. Quiddity is smaller than universal. It is more attainable. It is that fleeting fragrance of the flower I just passed by, the honeysuckle in my backyard, experienced for a brief moment, absorbed, loved but not catalogued as eternal or forever fixed. What is the quest for beauty. 

Quiddity, at its simplest and most sensory, is a brief flash of recognition and pleasure of essence.

This is how we were meant to live, philosophically and joyfully sentient. Wise Jesus said that he came to give us life, life abundantly, life flowing over the edge of the cup. He came to empower us to experience the quality of being human, and of being one with each other and himself. He designed us to receive essences, to be in receipt of the ultimate essence, love.

But not wanting to fly too high over our own heads, although we can soar into the best things life has to offer (connection, community, love, the divine) we can also talk about this kind of thing, about quiddity, in earthy, historical, everyday, garden variety terms.

Consider Frank Loyd Wright, the famed American architect. It has been said that his architecture is organic. This is a rough and crude distinction, but it helps understand the man. The structures he designed vary widely in look, but the theme of fitting in with the environment is common to many of them.

He himself said about this:

“A building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings if Nature is manifest there.”

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”

By such statements we begin to get at the quiddity of his designs, a harmony between hill and house. He built to nature. His buildings honor their environments, his “Falling Water” house being perhaps the finest example. A rushing waterfall runs out from under the house.

So why labor to identify quiddity?

For this reason: To discover the nature of a thing is to understand and to increase pleasure in living through our amazing world. It may also help us to understand evil, and injustice, but then that is another exploration for another time.

The quest for quiddity is one mechanism for increasing our understanding and pleasure. As applied to the good things of life, it is a quest to experience beauty. 

So what would it take for you and I to apprehend the quiddity present in people and things around us on a day-to-day basis?

The question is fraught with philosophical, epistemological and ontological problems.

Let’s skip those. We will never all agree on the universal essence of anything, or even on how we come to that, but what we can do is simply savor what we perceive to be the essence or essences of something in any given moment.

How might we do that? How might we dive deeper into the rich essence of experience? How might we see, know, apprehend and classify our experiences of the “other,” the “what” better?

This way: Make the choice to pause, to be in the present moment and to suck it up, straw it up into our awareness. It will take the extended pause needed to really see and hear and feel. It will take the pause that hovers over something, that lets it be for us what it is. It will take the willingness to savor the thing, the thing’s “what,” its pleasure rating, its place on the pleasure spectrum. This will have to be done without rushing on to the next moment in which the lovely, glowing, fragrant, sensuous quiddity of the previous moment is always lost.

This morning as I ground my espresso beans and packed them into the portafilter basket, I breathed them. I breathed in the sweet, poignant, nutty, earthy fragrance of ground coffee, freshly baked.

The quiddity of good espresso exists in its smell and taste, which exists in the art of how it was originally dried, baked and processed. It’s real essence is the land it came from, it’s elevation, it’s rainfall, it’s soil.

When I drink espresso, I drink it’s quiddity, it’s immediate history, the machine it was just extruded from, the water it is dissolved in, the heat that helped extract it, the ratio of water to bean. And when I drink espresso I drink its older history, the place it grew, its geography, the people who grew and harvested it. I drink a complex old-new quiddity that is reduced for me to a beautiful smell and taste that I and so many others know and love so well. And then there is the jolt, the caffeine rush, another very personalized quiddity of the much loved coffee bean.

Quiddity, the word has such a fluid sound. It easily slides into place with its definition. And it offers us a pointer, a crude gesture toward living well.

To pause, over each person and thing we encounter, and closing our eyes to breathe in an essence, a gorgeous “whatness,” the what that is right in front of us — ahhhh.

This is one way to live well.

The devil is in the details; so is the divine.

In other words, microcosmic stuff matters — atoms, quarks, corners, specks, chips, flakes.

It must; it’s everywhere, the particulate.

Recently, we installed dark hardwood floors in our home. Suddenly we notice tiny bits of white stuff — flakes, chips, particles — on the floor, everyday! Was the wood magnetized? Was it sucking white stuff out of the air?

Nope, it was always there, the small pieces  — tracked in from the outside, falling off our shoes, the litter from things dropped in the kitchen, the tiny residuals from snacks eaten in the family room  —  we just didn’t see it in the former, light carpet.

Yuck!

What to do? Vacuum more, sweep more, dust more; otherwise, we are living in a trash dump.

I’m currently building a wall at the front of the house. Millimeters matter. If the first course of block isn’t level, the next course won’t be and the error will worsens as I go up.

But, fortunately, this think concerning detail all works in the opposite direction too. Sweep everyday, adjust the level constantly, pay attention to detail and we then live with the good, clean, safe, healthy and beautiful — constantly.

I recently had to have a potentially hurtful conversation with someone. I suffered — for several weeks — as I literally extruded the right words from my brain, finessed the right tones out of the air and perfected a perfectly efficacious linguistic and proxemic  demeanor.

It worked, the conversation; it went well; it had the desired result, because I had paid attention to detail.

Today, I’ll bring to exact level some decomposed granite in the backyard to prep for some beautiful wedge shaped stone pavers that will make up a new circular patio. Tomorrow I’ll order eleven new double paned windows for the house, measured to an eighth inch, for a precise, weather tight fit. And then in two months, I’ll do a bigger thing — I’ll retire from a profession I’ve practiced for thirty years.

And when I retire, I’ll do that carefully too. I’ll handle my people carefully, my precious people carefully, with finely measured responses and with finely tuned and bubble-leveled affirmations —  as I have learned to do with everything.

The molecular matters.

Slivers and morsels and smithereens and iotas matter — especially when it come to each other.

This week I noted that in the news there was the usual hustle, activity and commotion around the country  — a new electric car on the market, some political wrangling, the usual celebrity gossip, the leaks about a new high-end smart phone, an incredible dinosaur discovery and some news about the latest self-appointed church apostles. There was also the Dow at a new high and the numbers concerning the cash raked in by the new block-buster movies.

The people get bored, and so there is the new stuff, in the news.

Sometime I guess we all want to live “the life” — or at least to hear about the life  —   the fast, fun, cutting edge, shocking, resourced, healed, powerful, cool life. We seem to have a ubiquitous interest in the best boost, the latest break, the newest go-to gadget, Gidget or gaggle. We seemed to be manic for the latest mission, mansion, murder, miracle or marketing “Wow!”

From business to government to church it sometimes seems as if the most common ambition is to get the next great thing, get the next good deal, aim for the next nearest star, to get rich or powerful — spirit-slain or financially insane in our own jet plane.

We seem to want to power up and move on out — a lot. We Americans are a fairly ambitious sort.

But a few days ago, digging around in my Bible for personal sanity, I ran across this line, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”  (1 Thessalonians 4:11)

Hmm, “ambition,” to “lead a quiet life”?

Don’t usually put those two together.

I think I like it, and need it, because I also get bored and I too fall into wanting more, or else or other-better-bigger-digger-jigger.

But it helped me, this idea, this admonition to go for quietness. And so this week I worked on taking pleasure and quiet satisfaction in the small, simple things that I needed to do.

I helped an older disabled woman pay her rent. Interesting, driving her to the bank, giving her the money, talking to her about her limited budget, working with her on getting more affordable housing. Simple, quiet, good.

I also took someone who I wanted to to keep in a leadership loop out to lunch. She is super-special to me. We’ve made quiet history together, empowering women in the church. She was the first female elder I had the privilege to appoint and work with. Cool!

This week I also helped an NA group get established in a new location. Very mundane perhaps —  a new room — but very good for a whole group of people trying to recover.  Good for them!

Quiet things.

There were more, some very humble activities.

I took a person with special needs out to coffee; she had asked for some special attention. I took some time to drive her to Starbucks, to sit and talk to her, to ask questions and listen. She left smiling. I knew that was time well-spent.

At home, more of the mundane. I washed my cat, I paid my bills, I made dinner two nights, I washed dishes. One evening, I had a nice quiet dinner with just my wife. Then we watched some favorite TV together.  After that, I drove out and picked up my daughter and a disable friend from a late evening event.

I must say, upon reflection, that I like doing these kind of quiet things. Today, alone in my office,  I laid out a schedule at work for the things that we will deal with and talk about at church for the rest of the year, including Christmas. I like thinking ahead about Christmas. Looking ahead, thinking ahead, alone, in a peaceful room — for the good of some other people —  hmm, nice.

What is a quiet life? What does it mean to be ambitious for a quiet life?

It is this: it is simply being wiling and open and even eager to be doing what needs to be done, what is next, what is needed, what is helpful, what is gentle, what is loving, what others need. It means doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done.

I don’t mean to demean progress or vision or big dreams or big successes or stages or lights or healings or awards or news.  I’ve dreamed. I’ve surged forward. I’ve gone for more. I’ve had public successes, good moments on the stage of life. It was fun. Some of it was good.

And yet, and yet, and yet-by-yet, what deep peace, what excellent feelings of integrity, what quiet satisfaction lies in small, silent, simple everyday, unselfish things.

I think about it. I breathe this in. Today, after a simple, quiet week, I  breathe as if breathing a great, deep, calming silence.

Yeah, go for it when you can — if you must —  but the scripture does say to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.

I think that this is in part, because God loves us so much, and because he wants us to love each other so much, and because God himself is deep and quiet and simply good — and because he wants us to experience great satisfaction.

“If you run after them then you create false sincerity,” she said — straight up, just  perfectly, “What?” — just what I needed to hear.

My brain turned over, picked up this verbal dollop, this insight topping, this perfectly selected accent of sweet wisdom, applied it to the person I have been over-pursuing, and laid it down in a neural groove for later retrieval.

“Bang!”

The neurons are firing now.

I’ve have learned the “false sincerity” lesson before, by another name, but I have forgotten it before too, and when she said it just right, I added the “false sincerity” moniker to my labeling file and considered it the morning’s bon mot, cup of proverbial tea, fine phrase and then I took it under advisement — and it helped.

Be advised.

Helping people is an fine art, a subtle art, a nuanced art.  If you do too much for them, if they do too little, if you ask them to do stuff like come to the recovery group, come to church, come to water aerobics, but too much, and they don’t want to, often they will still come — but with false sincerity, to please you, to assauage guilt, to look good — and then they won’t come again until asked again, shamed again or bribed.

All this wastes everybody’s time and trashes hope too. People must want to change to change. They must get it, inside, and want it, in their deep brain, and intend to go after it with all they have, or they won’t.

Sincerity of the real, good, person-changing type is self-motivated.

I love it when they cut, stab, drill and peer into me with their cruel machines. I literally exult. I consider myself among the most privileged persons on the planet. Later I remember their tortures with the greatest fondnesses.

She pulls my mouth open with her fingers, slides the needle into my jaw gently and says, “Relax.” Then she starts humming in the way that I like.

He takes the top of my head with both his hands, firmly rotates it, and then with his right hand he cuts me. “Excellent,” he says. I agree, as I always do regarding his work. It’s why I keep coming back.

“Put you hands here,” she says, “side-by-side on the machine. Then place your eye against the rubber until you see the bright green circle.”

I love them. I love their machines. Each instrument does for me what I can’t do for myself. Each one achieves a goal, and yet it is not consumed in the process. Each one — masterfully manipulated — and I am better. Dig, scrape, lift, hammer, screw, compute — good, better, best me and you

Instrument, utensil, implement, machine, device, and apparatus — tools and the people who skillfully manipulate them — these greatly improve our lives.

We who are resourced, we who have multiple, modern armamentariums at our disposal, we who can hire dentists, surgeons, hair stylists, mechanics and  optometrists, we live so well, better than any ancient royalty.

Healthy care, beauty care, eye care, car care, soul care  — if you have it, suffer it gladly, you proviledged elite, you resourced rich, you spoiled pampered. Complain not that you have to go to the doctor or dentist; that’s unenlightened. It’s ungrateful.

For every time they stick a needle or drill or scrapple into you, for every time you get your hair cut, for every pedicure and pill and partial panacea that blesses you — be thankful.

The other day someone told me, “I feel like I have tried so hard to do everything right, but I still haven’t gotten what I want — or what I so badly need.”

Bingo! Yeah, I have sometimes felt that way too.

Then the person said, “Why not just give up, quit trying to be right, and just do what other people are doing?”

Yeah, I have felt that weary-of-doing-the-right thing too. And I have felt that might-as-well-just give-up-now, good-egg pouting, righteous-fruit-despairing type thing.

What to do?

First, I’d say keep the big picture in mind, the long-journey in mind, keep the game plan right smack dab in front of you. Being good, doing right, living according to your values will take time to show off it’s value and yield its reward.

But that reward, when it comes, maybe months or even years down the road will be sweet and tasty — and worth the wait.

Hang on; doing the right thing pays off — over time. Good things take time.

It took so long for me as a credentialed teacher to really become a good teacher — years of practice, failure, tying again, showing up for class with a knot in my stomach, until one day — I led that great discussion on that great novel and made that great homework assignment and knew, I had really taught them well.

Hang on! It took years for my wife and I to develop a truly good relationship, lots of fights, hurts, make-ups,  forgiving and being forgiven, getting counseling, until we got it, mostly, kind of  — peace, love, power to do the right thing for each other, self-control, deep emotional connection.

Good things are seldom gotten easily. The good is always hard won, and yet the good-good is so very good when earned by a long moral march in the right direction. And when you get there, to something good you have long longed for, you will be glad you didn’t cheat your way there, or bribe your way there,  or immoralize your way there so that you are left with an uneasy heart or regretful mind, or nothing that is really good at all. We are capable of ruining what is good by how we get it.

Yeah, that is the reality to face on this issue. Doing the wrong things to get the right thing doesn’t work. It doesn’t get you the right things. Right begets right. Wrong leads to wrong.

In career, taking short cuts will lead to incompetence, and forcing your way to the top will leave a sad trail of bodies behind you.

In relationships, doing wrong to get to right often leads leads to a poor fit —  that we don’t see until too late — to a poor match and to the painful reality that it didn’t work and we are right back where we started, ten years later, but now brutally damaged.

Hang on. Doing right, being good — it pays off. Good isn’t a panacea. We must not treat it as such. We don’t get everything we want in life no matter how we live. And being good is not some nifty tool, we use to manipulate others or God to give us what we want.

Good is good, and good is and has it own reward. Good produces good; it produces good people, people in charge of themselves, able to exercise control, able to love, and able to do so much good for others.

Doing the right thing isn’t a shield against all pain or disappointment or loss, but it is the proven, safe route up the great eight thousand meter mountain of life to the gorgeous view from the top.

 

 

Contentment is a great feeling, unless it stifles excitement.

You can get too contented and fall into apathy or indifference. Perhaps you are there if you are no longer excited about stuff like tonight’s pork chops, next year’s vacation to the great Northwest, putting up the lights this Christmas or something along the lines of your next new friend —  or precious love.

I love getting excited! That is why I drink espresso. So does my youngest daughter. I remember how when she was little she got to clutching and chewing a giant, green dill pickle and then exclaimed with her famous, family jolly face, “I love this pickle! This is the best pickle I have every had in my whole life!”

Excitement; it’s an ignitement! Boom!

Recently I drove a 2013 Infinity G37 sports coupe — 330 hp, sharp steering, Bose sound system. It growled and yowled; I howled!

Reverse is just okay; ahead is super “Yea!”

I like being content, kicking back with what is, making friends with reality. Today I was very content with my cats. They were such a finality of furry finesse — dipped in black, doused in fluffy, immersed in sleepy, lions couchant on my lap. They make me purr.

I also like being discontent, with things that need to change. I like making plans, making changes, creating a new future, crafting something better.

Last week I bought a new but affordable espresso maker, a burr grinder and a tasty blend of locally roasted coffee. This morning, I was excited about better lattes — and not paying coffee shop prices. After drinking a double shot of Dark Horse I was even more excited. I love it when a good plan comes together — on my tongue, in my brain.

I might go to Nappa Valley this spring, tagging along after my wife, the archivist, as she goes to a work conference — my own bookish true love setting the pace for us as she so often does. I like following her around, especially to wine country.  I might buy that used but yet fun G car, I might write another blog post, I might plant some flowers in the new courtyard at the church tomorrow with my botanical friend Brenda, I might wash my black cat Megan — soon. She needs it: she wants it.

There is so much hope when we try things, when we enjoy stuff, when we just go for it.

I’m excited. I need to pick a date to take my friends to see the wild flowers in the dessert this spring. I want to take a bunch of them. I don’t think I will need any coffee to put those new countertops in the bathroom later this year. I can’t wait to go to work today. We might put the new gates in the halls this week! Where is my check book? I want to make that donation to my favorite charity — the one I work for.

I’m jived! I can’t wait to see people today!  I cannot wait to not judge the next person I see; I can hardly stand it as I anticipate telling them that they are amazing. I want to empower everyone I can!  Where is that set of drawings, who is my next best friend? What do we get to do next? Where is that dill pickle?

I can hardly wait for next and for coming and for here, and even this —  to finally jump up and down on my grave and shout to the sky, “Bring it on– smacked up and packed down and pushed all together and completely running over the top!”

I can hardly wait for eternity.

I’m excited about a life that just keeps on going, about a God who just keeps on loving, about friends who are always there and never leave.

Excitement — I don’t think you can’t overrate it.

“Yea!”

“Wahoo!”

Every day we need rest, sometimes we need deep rest.

We need a kind of deep, abyssopelagic, bottom dwelling rest when we have become cumulatively tired, when we have pushed for too long, too hard, too fast.

So how do we get that; how do we rest in such a way that we shape within ourselves a rubust recovery?

To do this we must detach, detrailer and deplane We must unhook, unsnap and unfasten. We must quit.

We must quit work, we must quit doing any work and we must quit planning more work in the car while driving home.

We must quit communicating. Yes, we must stop talking with others for a time, so that we can listen to ourselves and God. We must stop  making phone calls, texting, emailing and connecting on social media.

Why? Because deep healing is a solitary thing; it is hermetic, reflective, a kind of mental chewing of the cud, a kind of quiet licking of wounds, a kind of contemplative, ruminative self-mending — in silence.

Silence is salutary. Long silence is curative. Deep silence raises the dead.

To go deep, and recover, to be raised again, we must also do some psychological quitting. We must quit thinking anxiously about our problems, about other people’s problems and about the problem of problems.  We must take  responsibility for being present-in-the-moment of the adequate now, for once, and we would do well, for a few moments at least, to stop acting like we run the world.

This must get so very specific, this kind of honest, congruent, salvific resting. This means taking breaks from things we do habitually.

For instance, we must stop running to the store for the next new thing, the next trendy trinket, fancy food stuff or busy buy fix. We must stop shopping online for our next piece of clothing, the next piece of jewlry, the next nick-nap, knock-knob. We must stop acting as if consuming is the essence of living, stop believing the fallacy that we will be satisfied by the very next bright and colorful fetish we acquire.

Here is the deal, the thing we so often miss. It is not all up to us. So much comes to us, is provided, is taken care of already, at the right time, running together, running over the edge of the cup.

What should we do?

Bask, sun, luxuriate in time, soak, receive.

And most specifcally, to make it clear.

Take naps — like our cats.

Read stuff — slowly.

Eat healthy, yum food.

Look at the bright sky — or at sparkling water.

Listen:

to music,

to the beating of our hearts,

to our own breathing,

to the love stiring inside of us,

to hope,

to peacefulness,

and to God.

This morning I make my coffee dark and strong. I am instantly rewarded with the rich taste in my mouth, quickly followed by that fun, playful, convivial caffeine kick.

I sit on the couch. My very soft cat comes and sits beside me. I put my fingers in her fluffy fur. She purrs: I purr.

I pray, “God, encourage me, help me, bring good to me and my people.” God answers me, “I am.

Built into the universe is an incredibly rich, instrinsic, automatic perpetuation of what is good. Yesterday I dug in the yard at the church, preparing the soil for the beautiful flowers that will bloom yellow and purple there soon. I prepare for the good; I will see the good.

Built into every good action is an equal and positive reaction. I cleaned the carpet at home this week. I sit this morning and look at the smooth, unstained surface. I feel satisfied. I find in simple things one of the grand universal laws of auto-causal, socio-geograhical, physio-spiritual psychodynamics.

Seek good; find good. Do good; think good. Be good; feel good. Good follows hard on the heels of every good.

I make my daughter’s dinner. She comes to help. We sit and eat together. We play a game of Yahtzee. The dice click. We laugh at what comes up. I roll two Yahtzees. We relax into what we have made — love, fun, safety, human warmth, family.

Just as in every act of evil there is harm to the doer, in every act of goodness there is an immediate reward for the actor.

Tonight I will have people over to my house for dinner. As I give them care, I will immediately experience their love, friendship and warmth. Especially if I think of them, and not my house, of them and not myself, of them and not my worries — good will come to me and to them.

To experience good, we must do good, to revel in good, we must place the good in front of us — we must bathe in it, soak in it, relax into it, let it relax into us.

I sit writing. I breathe deeply. In these confessions of the truth there is good. I sit quietly. Good falls on me like rain. I am watered — at rest.

The rewards of goodness  — they’re everywhere!