Posts Tagged ‘thriving’

Sun seeking jungle vines are heliotropic. They race one another up tree trunks to the light. One type of thorny bramble whips from side to side, shoving other plants out of the way. How rude! It is a jungle out there.

The Queen Victoria’s Water Lily has circular leaves that can grow to over 8 feet in diameter and float holding up almost 100 pounds in weight. Air is trapped in the ribs of the leaves. Air mattress plants.

The Africa acacia tree produces a whistling sound from the bulbous of its thorn. It also makes friendships with ants. Ants who can be whistled in? Maybe not.

Smart kites and falcons in Australia fly into active fires to pick up smouldering sticks and carry them away to area the flames have not yet reached. They start new fires to flush game from that area. They use fire to hunt. So much for a romantic view of nature. Yikes! Mice, snakes, lizard and rabbits should all move out of Australia. Find a nice, small suburban yard in London or maybe San Diego.

Forest trees have learned to live in mutually beneficial relationships. The trees communicate using a collective intelligence much like an insect colony. They share water and food through networks. Cooperative. We could learn from the trees.

Sand dunes are built one sand grain at a time. Each dune type is the result of different wind patterns, and the presence or lack of vegetation on the ground. It’s a self-organizing phenomenon. Beautiful! It’s natures geomancy, the art of arranging buildings auspiciously.

Our world! Strange. Instructive. Brutal. Beautiful.

Today I helped a butterfly escape from our patio cover. It was trapped there banging frantically against the fabric until I guided it with my hand down to where the cover ended. Then it fluttered away, freed. Safe.

I like the cooperative elements. The forest trees working together. The acacia and the ants. Beautiful and safe. It’s coming.

Isaiah 11

The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling a together;

and a little child will lead them.

7The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

9They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

When we consider other’s pain, their particular form of suffering, we often don’t know what to say or do, so we do or say nothing.

Recently my dad told me that his vision has deteriorated so much he can’t read. What to say?

It’s hard. I’ve been in that linguistic vacuum of not knowing. It’s awkward.

But lately, suffering my own significant degree of pain and loss, I better see what can be said or done.

After hearing about my dad‘s loss of vision, I asked him what he’s been doing with his time. I was interested. He had some things to say. He’s been sitting in beautiful spaces taking in the scenery. It was good. I didn’t really say anything, just listened.

Sometimes It’s OK to be silent if it is attend by interest and questions. Silence is fine —- as long as we are still present. Just sitting with someone in a waiting room at the hospital, just listening on the phone and not giving any advice, this can be so respectful and honoring.

But there are things to say. Wisdom has words. Wisdom communicates.



We can ask questions. We can draw out the person’s experiences, thoughts and feelings. Recently, upon hearing that one of my daughters was struggling with her emotions, I encouraged her to write her feelings in a journal and then to send them to me. She now does that regularly, and I respond with “Good job,” and “A+” drawing from my experience as a teacher. Sometimes we discuss what she has written.

Feelings — they are best approached as being normal, human, not right or wrong. I love the line — upon hearing of someone’s fear or embarrassment or shame or anxiety — “Considering what you are going through, anyone would feel that way.” It is so salutary to normalize people’s feelings.

Next we can relate to and acknowledge the whole person. We are more than our suffering, even when it seems to dominate. Recently I received a text from a friend asking me if I would like to speak to his congregation. He was honoring what I used to do. We had some fun with it. I often used a barstool while speaking. I did so to give a relaxed, human, cool, down-to-earth vibe to my presentations. I told him now that I’m suffering chronic pain, I’d have to speak laying down on the stage, and I would invite people to sit around me. It would be a new take on on casualness. The sermon on the ground! My friend saw me as more than my pain. We could laugh about it. Humor helps.

Another approach is to speak of good memories. Recently we heard of a friend who doesn’t have much longer to live. Despite some years of separation, even some alienation, we wrote notes to her remembering all the good things we experienced together earlier in life. Remembering the good, when you’re faced with the bad, it’s helpful.

Finally, instead of focusing on dysfunction, disability or pain, we can focus a person on what is good in them. Someone told me recently, “You are so strong, you’re brave.” He spoke of my previous accomplishments in reinventing organizations. I needed that. I was feeling weak, afraid and unaccomplished. It was good to be reminded that strength is still there within.

As I hung up with my dad the other day, he said he felt so guilty for not calling me. I told him that was OK. I had no judgment of him. He thanked me for this. This is something my pain has done for me. It’s knocked the criticalness out of me. It is powerful to relate to others without judgment.

Pain and hardship, it’s rough, but we can still talk during it, and at the very least we can go through it together.

Last week a friend gave me a jar with a net over the top, inside were some sticks with leaves, and attached to those were two chrysalises, pointy ends, fat middles, yellow-green. Her neighbors had collected them, to protect them from getting eaten by birds. I was honored to be selected to be a part a butterfly conservation

Yesterday morning my wife noticed that butterflies had magically appeared in the jars — two beautiful, soft yellow sulphers, Phoebis sennae.

They were perfect Pieridae, Cloudless Yellow Sulphurs with spindly little legs, filament like antennas, gorgeous gracile wings, yellow with flecks of red, painted as if sfumato — amazing! I took the jar outside, took off the lid and gently tilted them out.

One — Rosie I’d say— flew immediately, clearly a bon vivant, high in the air and with soigné landed in the top of a banana tree. They always come with names when they come to our grand garden. The other, Amelia, flopped out, and fluttered to the ground. Thinking she wasn’t safe there, I put my finger down to prompt her to move, and she winged up and landed on the back of my hand. For the briefest moment she touched me, she entered my Hieroclesian circle.

Perhaps she was at risk, not ready, needing to find a safe spot to finish drying, and so I — in extremis, my chronic pain hammering my brain — became a temporary safe platform or jump pad and from there she made her way along a bumpy air road to a small redwood trellis that I have built over our backyard pond. There she sat perfectly still, limned in sunlight. Protected. I checked on her later and she was a gone.

They had metamorphosed, transformed, entered the chrysalises as a caterpillars, melted down and reformulated into amazing winged creatures. Metanoia!

Wings, the stuff of wonder, the Cherubim over the ark of the covenant, the Winged Victory of Samothrace in the Louvre, the great winged Assyrian Lions, fairies, Peter Pan, the Wright brothers first airplanes, Pegasus, flying fish, eagles, doves, butterflies, bees, winged seeds. Spirituality, myth, biology — flight fills our world and animates our dreams.

And as for these yellow sulphurs, I had seen their first flights. They needed no training. Flight had been built in.

She leaned over me and said, “Oh it’s so good to see you. How are you?”

Even though her white mask covered most of her face, I could still see the edges of her eyes crinkling up and so I knew she was smiling.

I smiled back. “So good to see you! I can see your eyes smiling.” I said, to let her know I knew.

Ah, what a good, needed, warm, crucial experience. Human contact. I have never before been so glad to see my dentist!

Pandemic isolation has so limited our eye-to-eye, face-to-face, skin-on-skin relationships that we are starving for the physical presence of others. A voice on the phone, a face on a screen is good, a privilege, but it is not the same as soft skin close or eyes so near you can see the gleam, the warm brown or beautiful green or soft blues of life.

It reminds me how important our relationships are. My dentist isn’t just my dentist. She has done high quality dental work for my wife and I and my daughters for years. She took special care of my daughters, so patient with all of us and gentle. She called me on a weekend recently on her way in to work to check on me.

After the pandemic is over the governments of the world will be judged on how well they helped people. The same question might be asked of any of us. Probably no one will ask, but we could ask ourselves? How much was I there for other people during the pandemic?

I‘ve been wondering how I might help other people during this time? A text, a call, a smile for someone behind a counter, a gift to a family member, an expression of appreciation for services rendered, a donation to an organization providing food, a volunteer role, a helpful blog post.

I love the care my dentist recently gave me. I wonder if through the pandemic and after someone might say about me. “I love the care he gave me.”

Our lives write a story we tell ourselves. What story do you tell yourself about yourself?

The story you tell yourself about yourself involves the actions of your life that float like driftwood in your memories. How we think about those floating-memory chunks — our past behaviors within our relationships, jobs, organizations — determine the stories we repeat to ourselves.

Certainly our story lines, if graphed, have ups and downs, but knowing that we are wired and inclined toward the negative — scientific research shows that— we need to often restory our good lines, good paragraphs, good chapters.

I know what you sometimes think. You haven’t always acted you roles well. Please rethink your self-critical mind. Do not judge yourself by comparing yourself to a perfect form of you, to some fabricated, idealized, phantom-perfection that has never existed nor can.

Tell your story in a self-inspiring way. When were you brave? I know you were and are. Tell that bit to yourself.

I remember helping struggling, under-resourced college students write their first paragraphs in an English class I taught. English was their second language. These working adults received corrections on their first drafts. They rewrote the paragraphs for better grades. They were so brave to be in school, to try so hard.

We all have brave moments. Of course we have been fearful. There is no person who hasn’t been, or if there was, they weren’t thinking clearly.

I remember taking risky career jobs that required the inventing — or reinventing — of organizations. Other visionary professionals worked there too. We all did more than we were paid for. We made positive steps forward together. This was good.

At one new and growing church we built a whole raft of positive classes and fun experiences for children. I told the newly hired staff, “We have the best jobs. We think it one day. We turn it into reality the next.“ Those realities remain in those children, now adults.

When were you helpful to a child? To an adult dealing with multiple difficulties? Remember that. I know you have done good things.

When were you good to an organization? You took a volunteer role, or you were underpaid. You worked hard anyway. Perhaps the organization wounded you. They can do that. Many organizations have a common problem, a body count, casualties from biases, abuses, jealousies.

Maybe your hardest moments were your best. Maybe you overcame a rejection. Maybe once you exposed an injustice. Maybe you didn’t say a cruel thing you thought. Perhaps you accepted your body as normal instead of hating it for its perceived imperfections. Those were big wins.

Being kind, this is another part of your story and mine. We have been kind. When were you kind? You were. You are.

In one struggling school I taught at we filled the display cases in the halls with student’s essays, publicly displaying their work, bragging on them. That’s what they needed, kind recognition, regard, worth.

When were you kind? Remember it. Fight for that part of your story. Our best self is found in small and humble kindnesses. We gave a word of encouragement, we withheld a negative judgment, we asked someone the right question and listened as they figured out their next step. Kind.

At one organization where I worked we repurposed spaces that had deteriorated and fallen into disuse. We raised funds to build a gorgeous interior courtyard that functioned as a garden, a playground, a venue. Then we repurposed and beautifully remodeled an unused building as a counseling center. People gave money. People with extra resources gave money. Those with very little gave money. Businesses and individuals donated labor. Generous. People can be very generous.

Each of our stories contain generosity. When were you generous? Tell that story to yourself. I know you were generous. Maybe it was a small piece. Some of our best actions may exist in a small generosity that we have underplayed, maybe forgotten, but the recipient remembers.

Fight for your good story. Yes, I know, we all have been egocentric, selfish. All. But there’s no need to measure ourselves against a perfect version of ourselves or another person who wasn’t ever selfish. They don’t exist.

When we remember our good story we are not denying our former mixed motives or imperfections, or others. We are simply telling the good truth. We are being needfully self-supportive.

This is very necessary. Why? Because our own voices have the potential to be hard or supportive.

Of course there are times to remember our mistakes. These are times of repentance. These are also times of learning.

But consider this. The Bible talks about God removing our sins as far as the east is from the west. That’s an infinite distance. If he forgives us in Christ, and he does, who are we to attempt to drag something back from the infinite east or infinite west and set up a false court against ourselves? This court only exists in our own imaginations. It isn’t real. It is a false, illegitimate court.

When were you forgiving of yourself? May that be now. Put off a negative thought or a distorted image of yourself. Shove your boat off from it. Sail away. I know you can. Put up a kind, good, brave and generous sail as you boat forward.

Tell yourself the best story of your life. Treasure that. Carry it inside you. It’s the story that is filled with the image of God stamped at creation into you, your goodness, kindness and generosity.

I love you. I love your good story. We all love your good story. We especially love the smallest pieces of it. The whole of good earth and good heaven loves the most common and humble bits and pieces of your good story.

We humans love simple, single things — ice, rest, blue skies, laughter. And we love things that go together, peanut butter and jelly, shoes and socks. We intrinsically want life to be simple like sugar, to fit, like a shoe, to make sense, like a TV show, to exhibit a pattern like stripes, to contain rules like a policy manual.

That’s fine, I love simple too, cold water, coffee, chocolate, the explainable, how to pull a good shot of espresso, but life isn’t all simple. And it offers no policy manual. Life doesn’t always have a matching pair of socks, the right amount of spice, a central theme like one of Poe’s short stories, unity of effect. Life is a long story. Multiple interpretations. Much of it isn’t themed. Self-help books and biographies can be tasty, like frothed milk in coffee, but it’s interesting how quickly they go out of vogue.

Life bounces around like a dune buggy on a rocky incline. Life soars over the top of the dune! Life comes down too hard and pops a tire. Life lived is rough, sometimes uncomfortable, like pants we’ve grow out of, or tumbley like a cement mixer. Then it’s beautiful like a flower growing from a crack in the concrete. Sometimes it’s simple like a hug, sometimes scary like a hurricane.

So how does one process a nonlinear, constantly shifting whirly, swirly?

I have a few thoughts on this.

Live the now. Don’t look back too hard using psychological microscope, or ahead to squinty using what you have, a small aperture, low power mental telescope. Don’t regret stuff much, mistakes, jobs, relationships. You learned something. In a given day you can fall into the pit and sit on a cloud. Bounce on. Kids do that. They are crying one minute and laughing in the next. Cry-laugh.

Try not to define yourself by accomplishments or comparisons of accomplishments. One person‘s accomplishments don’t take away from your own. In some seasons we are super productive and in others we are not. Our value doesn’t change when we don’t do what we used to.

Don’t give much advice. Don’t expect kudos if you do. That’s not why we help, is it? The best thing you can tell people is that you believe in them. Tell them they are strong. Ask questions about what they think. Listen. Be open, like a bucket with no lid. Help them come up with their own answers. Help them turn on their own faucet.

And accept that you won’t always be able to explain yourself to others or even to yourself. What others haven’t lived, they won’t understand. What you haven’t lived before but do now may not make sense to you until later. And try as you might, some things you won’t figure out. The more you try the more you’ll wonder.

Christians may particularly struggle with this issue. We easily fall into a kind of simplistic, preachy, advicey, fix-it, rule-tyranized religion, always trying to live up to some morality or virtue or rule — or get someone else to. The Bible isn’t a policy manual. It’s a messy story. Truth is best as a parable. Jesus showed us that. Jesus was intentionally obscure. He intentionally said complex stuff, told stories nobody understood. At times he hid the truth. Why? Wisdom is often nuanced, paradoxical. Wisdom isn’t always an answer. Sometimes it’s a question. Sometimes we must live, move, and have our being inside of questions.

Expect disagreement, even inside of yourself. I had an argument with myself recently. I lost — and won. We don’t have to always agree with ourselves. We think we will and then we think we won’t and then we think we do and then we think we don’t. I am one person tired, another rested, one way sick, another well. We are each a bundle, an assortment compounded, multiviewed, complicated.

Make friends with tensions. Even with those we love the most we often have conflict. John Gottman, a family psychologist, says that much spousal conflict is never resolved, just lived with and negotiated and eventually laughed at — a lot. There are always two sides and usually both sides have some validity. And sides remain after all the talk.

Look at how inconsistent the Bible people were. Moses flipped and flopped, bold, scared, retreating, advancing, favored, then left out. David was a hot mess. He lied and murdered and adulterated and wrote famous, pious-prayer psalms. Peter was a massive contradiction, at one point so loyal to Christ, at another point denying him. Paul was racked with insecurity and self doubt. Read Romans 7. He agonized over doing the very things he didn’t want to do. Perhaps the best approach is to think of ourselves as forgiven and loved despite our contradictions, inconsistencies and complications.

You are loved. I love you. God loves you. That’s one simple thing you can hold onto.

Restful is the dove’s roosting coo; calming is good counsel.

Lovely is the young mother at peace; gorgeous is the old man at rest.

Soothing is eye-to-eye; healing is heart-to-heart.

Iridescent is the hummingbird in the sun; dazzling is the truth in public.

Warm-soft are lines of light streaming through shutters; gloriously dual are the classic paradoxes.

Pleasant is the pain-free moment; truth-heavy is every suffering second.

Good is an old building restored; great is an old life repurposed.

Glistening the tree frog; shimmering the fashionista.

Glinting the ancient civilization unearthed; glowing a psyche’s past healed.

Beautiful two young lovers; gorgeous two old ones.

Flickering the falling rain; illuminating a gentle night’s sleep.

Radiant is justice and fairness; refulgent is the alien welcomed into the family.

Amazing the new moon; luminescent the new vision.

Bright the smile of a stranger; glittering the essence of a new idea.

Beaming the divine, carried in a song; luminous the divine — unsummoned.

Today, beset by a disabling and chronic pain, I could hardly get out of bed, hardly walk, but the few times that I could, I made it to the backyard in my pajamas. I made it to sunshine, to blue skies, to flowers — to my lovelies.

I made it to fluttering Swallowtail butterflies, to corolla-sipping, hover-darting hummingbirds, to downy post-nest, fledgling mockingbirds. I watched them taking bugs on my fence top from their continually returning mother.

On one of my very short outdoor excursions, I found our box turtle, Celine Dion, sitting in her water dish. The dish is buried in the beautiful little habitat that we made for her. It includes a whole raft of flowers, rich soil teaming with worms, a gurgling solar powered fountain, a small pond and plenty of shade. There Celine was, in the shade of a blue blooming plumbago, soaking up the algae green water, cooling down, enjoying respite.

I enjoyed her —in an exquisite, brief, recherche moment — but then feckless, pain-wracked and literally pain-crushed, I was forced back inside, there for much of the day, lying in bed, my lovelies, our turtle, my mockers, my coreopsis, our passion vines, nasturtiums, Cape honeysuckles, gulf fritillaries and anise swallowtails just out of pain’s reach.

I thought of Tantalus, a mythological Greek, made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, the tree’s fruit ever eluding his grasp, the water ever receding before he can drink.

We can all identify with Tantalus, that Greek symbol of dilemma, of life’s teasing and tantalizing, something we all face to different degrees in different times of life — something beautiful and satisfying, frustratingly out of reach.

Experience — what a mixed beauty-ugly bio-bag. And in these days, for so many of us, our worldwide pandemic has put so much just out of reach. And worse, it’s taken lives.

Oh life!

Great beauty; great suffering. Great love; great loss. Within reach; just out. Bacchus; Tantalus.

What to do?

Pray that we can survive those Stygian segments of suffering, deprivation and loss.

Offer gratitude to the divine, all his sentient angels, and the vast cloud of witnesses for the existential moments when we blunder-follow into the sun’s warmth, or into the water dish, into a flower’s corolla, those concise cut-a-ways from dullness and torpor when we blink, pause and sip from the languid, liquid loveliness of life.

Friends and family called recently to check in and see how we are. My daughter called today with some ideas that she found to help us with a particular medical problem.

It’s good.

A local UPS driver agreed to do a special pick up for us. We said we would set out a returned product on Friday. And he said, “I’ll remember that and come by.” And he did. He remembered.

It’s good.

During these times of world wide crisis it’s important to see the good in people and in our world.

Where do we see that?

We ordered groceries through Instacart recently. We ordered products from Amazon. We we are doing our part to isolate, to protect ourselves and also to protect others. Look how many people have isolated to protect others. Certainly some haven’t, but look at how many have.

It’s good.

We went out recently. We wore facemasks. Almost everyone else had a mask on too. Look at how many people have worn face masks. Each mask is an act of love for the rest of humanity. Yes, some won’t, but look at how many have.

Every day we either text or spend time on the phone with our daughters. People have connected during these isolating days. They have shopped for each other, reached out with calls and texts to encourage each other, celebrating graduations and birthdays and babies in careful but appropriate ways.

It’s good.

We have kept up with the news. We are dismayed that racism still exists in our country. We want equality for everyone. Protests and marches for social justice and fairness show love and care for people.

It’s good.

We’ve noticed how well the governors have responded to the pandemic in many states. They have lead the way towards protecting people and showed great concern for the economy too.

Yes, some of our leaders have ignored good science. And they have ignored medical experts. Yes, some of our leaders are divisive and have said and done divisive things. But others have stood up for justice and goodness and equality. Others are working to make changes long needed.

It’s good.

The world is a mess. The world is also full of love, kindness and goodness, even from strangers. It’s OK to see what’s wrong, but don’t forget to see what’s right too.

I love art. One of my earliest memories in school is of making copies of the great masters. As an adult, I like to read a favorite artist’s biography and watch an art history documentary.

Whenever we travel we visit art museums. My favorite is the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. The building itself is art. My favorite artists are chronicled below, polished into pithy observations. Check them out. Look them up. Who is your favorite artist?

Rembrandt and Vermeer invented light; Monet and Seurat reinvented it.

Chagall painted magic animals; then he taught love how to levitate.

Artemisia Gentileschi gave women back their bodies.

Michelangelo turned a ceiling into the Bible.

We love Frida Kahlo; she painted our pain.

Renoir made paint party.

Charles Burchfield painted a cathedral using a forest.

Rembrandt van Rijn out-detailed reality.

Emily Carr turned trees into saints.

Matisse, Picasso, Duchamp, Kandinsky, Warhol and Pollock threw a geometricized, essentialized and energized reality in our faces; that somewhat frightened us.

Mary Cassatt sat down in a crowd of men and turned mothers and children into paint.

Giotto brought the icons to tears.

Kandinsky payed the piano with paint.

Monet gave the haystacks dignity.

Van Gogh — if only he could have known how much we would love him.

Jacob Lawrence painted a migration so he could teach us to see a people.

Modern art is life — with the arms knocked off.