Thursday
Nov292012

Give yourself a gift this Christmas...Be Kind.

To find some shelter from the rain and cold he had spent the day sitting under the eaves of an empty video store near the entrance to our local grocery.  He held a simple sign which read "Need food for my family please help."   It wasn't the best location for an answer to his plea.  Even though everyone would see him as they were driving in to get their last minute Christmas Eve dinner items.  It would require that they make an effort to return and stop their car on the way out before hurrying home to their families and various holiday festivities. 

Now I have no doubt that the majority of people (just like me) who noticed this man sitting there considered his plight and even had the thought to do something - they simply never acted upon it.  What I didn't realized was that the Christmas Peace I was looking for that morning was sitting next to him waiting for me to reach out my hand in Kindness. 

I saw this man at 8 a.m. that Christmas Eve three years ago.  I had no idea at the time the events that would unfold in the coming hours.  I honestly didn't even think about him as I left the store and parking lot from a different exit.  The phone rang at about 2 p.m.  It was my father-in-law asking us to arrive at his home an hour early for Christmas Eve...he had something he needed all of us to do.  With grumbles all the way around and questions as to what he could possibly need us to do on Christmas Eve I let all my children know the new time of arrival. 

When we arrived at Grandma and Grandpa's home that afternoon they had two boxes for each of their children's families waiting for them with a turkey and some food items for a meal.  At the time they were working at the local food bank and they knew first hand the needs of local families at this time of year.  They simply gave us the boxes with instructions to go to the store and supplement any items we felt might be needed in the boxes and then deliver them to two families of our choosing within the next hour.  When we returned we would have our family dinner and evening festivities. 

We were in shock.  An hour? We had already participated in the Giving Tree at our Church - wasn't that enough?  Two families? We didn't even know one family that we could think of that needed a meal that day...or did we?  We took a deep breath loaded our family (ten of us that night) back into our vehicles and headed towards the grocery store. 

As we added fresh vegetables and a few non-essential Christmas goodies we discussed our options for delivery.  It was then that my daughter mentioned seeing a man in this very parking lot at noon when she came in to pick something up.  My son too remember seeing the same  man at about two when he came through the parking lot.  I then had to admit that I too had seen the same man at the beginning of my day.  Was it possible that he could still be sitting in front of that empty video store at 5 p.m.?  We didn't think it was. 

Out of the store and across the the parking lot to the far entrance.  Sure enough there he sat with the same sign in the same pouring rain eight hours after I had first seen him.  I imagine he wondered what was going on when ten of us piled out of two cars to approach him.  I hadn't previously noticed that he had an old bicycle leaning against the brick wall near him.  We offered him the items in our box and wondered if he a way to prepare it.  He said yes that his family lived in a small apartment nearby and that he hadn't had the heart to return home for Christmas Eve empty handed so he had remained there late into the afternoon.  We exchanged our box for several sacks he could manage on his bike (something to be considered in our future giving adventures) and after thanking us multiple times he headed home with a Christmas meal for his family. 

Success! Our first meal was delivered but we still had one more box left.  There were no other people out on the street that night, it was already dark out, and very cold.  My son then thought of the clerk at the local gas station we all got deli food and sodas from each week. (I am sure that Peace had jumped into the car with us and sat right down next him...) We all said no...to awkward...we see her all the time.  But he insisted.  At the time he was working delivering pizzas at night.  Almost every evening he would stop at the store for a popand for a few minutes he would talk with the woman behind the counter.  He knew she would be working that night and more importantly he also knew that she could use the Christmas meal the next day.

We were out of anonymous delivery options  - this one would be personal.  And all the sweeter we would soon discover.  As we walked into the store she was happy to see all of us.  "What are you all doing here?  Are you heading to your family Christmas party?" We told her we were but that our son had suggested that we stop by here first for a pop and to wish her a Merry Christmas.  "Merry Christmas!" she returned with a smile.  Then we showed her the box with the Christmas dinner items.  "What's this?" she asked.  "Christmas dinner...or the day after Christmas if you already have other plans!  Merry Christmas!"  This was the moment I had been nervous about...would she be angry or embarrassed?  Would she be too proud to accept our gift?  (or was I actually envisioning my own reaction if I was in a similar circumstances?)

With tears in her eyes she stepped out from behind the counter to give us each a hug and a thank you.   An extra moment was spent looking into my sons eyes as his were welled with tears and then a hug for him too.  She knew he was her friend and not just a customer any more.  Three years later she still works at the same store.  My son no longer delivers pizzas so their evening talks are much less frequent.  However, anytime when we do happen in on an evening our connection and friendship is revalidated as we update each other on our lives and families.

Recent news headlines out of New York City tell the story of a random act of kindness extended towards a man sitting on the busy sidewalk without any shoes and the police officer who saw a need a decided to act upon it.  (See NY Times article)  For a day or two the response was one of admiration for the police officers actions caught on a cell phone camera by a tourist. However, it was only a matter of a few days before naysayers began to try to take away from the kind act by putting forth evidence that the unsolicited gift did not change the circumstances of the receiver and that perhaps the man should not have ever received the gift in the first place. (See NY Times article)

I am going to go out a limb here and suggest that a random act of kindness will never benefit the person on the receiving end of the act more than the person who delivers the kindness. I am certain that our box of food left with the  man in the grocery store parking lot did nothing more than feed them for a day or two. It did not change his circumstances for any length of time and quite frankly I have no idea how "deserving" he was of our kindness.  My point here is that those things simply do not matter.  It was my life and perspective that was transformed in that exchange.  I discovered where Peace could instantly be found - resting on the extended hand of Kindness

I have also come to believe that there really is no "random" act of kindness.  I believe that Kindness is one of the choice and consequences sticks I have previously posted about.  Throughout each day we are given (and I personally believe we are literally given) opportunities to be kind.  Very frequently profound circumstances will bring to pass those opportunities in a manner which will leave you asking - was this really random?  When I was discussing this post with the lovely woman who does my hair she told me her recent experience with kindness.

She had been trying for months to sell a set of tires that her father had left for them at her home.  Various attempts at selling the tires had not been successful.  Then one day she had the thought that she was just going to load them up and take them to a nearby used tire dealer.  She wanted them out of the back yard and would take whatever he offered.  She left the store with $100.  She and her family then went to dinner at a local family owned restaurant they frequently dined at. (Why not?  They had some extra cash.)  A conversation with her waitress revealed that it was her child's birthday the next day.  The same conversation also revealed that the waitress was more than willing to go without her cell phone in order to make sure the birthday would not be without a gift.  As they left their $100 tip that night it included a note on a napkin which thanked her for the great service each time they came in telling her to enjoy the birthday party and keep her cell phone on too. 

It was then she hestitated in her story and said she really felt like she had the thought to go to that specific tire place on that very day just so that she would have the extra money when they went to dinner that night.  I could tell she was wondering if I would validate that belief or brush it off as a random act on her part. 

My past experiences with Kindess allowed me to validate her own.  She knew it was no random act and so did I. 

It is not always easy to to be kind.  I have found this often to be most true within the walls of my own home.  And yet, is that not where we want Peace to reside on a daily basis?  Opportunities for kindness abound.  Look for them and you will find Peace in the process.  So forget the notion that your acts of kindness are all about the other guy - they are really all about you! (That right there makes my next kind act easier!)

When an opportunity for Kindness comes your way  - reach out. 

You will hear Peace whisper - "You're right...I knew you would pass my way today."

Thursday
Nov012012

Which came first...the Question or the Answer? 

Answers.  We all look for them.  A sample  yesterday from my twelve year old son...   "What should I eat?" My response was a listing of options from our cupboard and refrigerator. "No Mom, I know what we have to eat.  I want you to tell me what I should eat."  My response was simple "An Apple."  More frustrated now than ever he restates "No Mom! I know what is healthy! I want you tell me what I should eat!" My answer now was another question "Are you actually asking me to tell you what you want to eat?"  "Never mind! Your no help at all!!"

 or from my three year old grand daughter...

"What's that cow thinking about Grandma?"

"Does that cow have friends?"

 and then there are those of my own making...

"Where's the money for these bills going to come from?"

"Is there any way to fit more hours into the day?"

"Where is the 'Peace' I am supposed to be actively pursuing?!"

"Can I post on my Pursuing Peace website - "Not having a great day - How 'bout you?"

Now I know alot about finding answers - I am almost 50 after all.  That's a few years of answer gathering.  By now I can actually find answers quite easily most of the time.  Others - the ones I know will take diligent study to find are often simply set aside on the  "I will work on that on that one later" shelf - unanswered but available.  Still others I know are perhaps not meant to answered at all - at least not directly.   These are actually the most important questions (and non answers).  We all ask this particular type of question  hundreds of times each day. Phrased silently to ourselves and to those around us.  I am not the first to ponder upon this fact.  Consider the following quote by American Playwright Tennessee Williams.

"Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question."

I was discussing my question and answer dilemma with my husband a few nights ago.  (My usual pre post check in) He shared that when he was in law school one of his professor's told them to keep rephrasing their questions until it could only be answered with a "Yes" or a "No" answer.  In this way the truth would surely rise to the top.

Truth.

Seeking Truth?

Can Peace be found there? Amid the unanswered questions? Are these questions actually the left and right turn signals along life's path? Perhaps the question is there simply to move me towards an answer I already have... The Peace I am coming to know seems to follow a course that never allows me to see too far into the distance. I find myself putting my foot on the brake simply because I'm not sure where the next bend in the road will take me. And then there I sit - in the middle of road, people honking at me, with life folliage growing around my wheels binding me down. It is the fear of facing various "Truths" in our lives that keeps Peace at a distance. The truth is as we take our foot off of the brake we begin the process of navigating lifes many turns. 

Hmmm....

"Where's the money for these bills going to come from?" (I'm not sure.  But sitting here looking at them isn't going to make a deposit in my bank account.)

"Is there any way to fit more hours into the day?"  (Nope.  But tomorrow I will be given a new day ready to fill.)

"Where is the 'Peace' I am supposed to be actively pursuing?" (Just around the bend waiting patiently for me to catch up.)

"Can I post on my Pursuing Peace website - "Not having a great day - how 'bout you?" (Absolutely. But a better post would be "Celebrating Life's Good Things" and then receiving over 50 photo's and captions to remind me of a different question that needs asked ...)

The question is not what you look at but what you see.

--Henry David Thoreau

Thursday
Aug022012

Unwrapping shit...

She reached over and squeezed my hand. I returned the gentle squeeze and held her hand as we silently continued down the highway. We had been following my brother pulling the U-Haul trailer for several hours now. Heading North on I-15 away from the beautiful red rocks of Southern Utah.

 The year before my Dad died they had purchased a small retirement place there. A place my mother had come to call home over the past 15 years. It wasn't home - not really- but she had built a good life there since my father died all those years ago. She had many times reflected back to that day and said that Dad must have known he was leaving her soon because he had asked her "Is this the place you will be happy Mom?"

It had only been about eight weeks earlier that she had called me. "It's time for me to come home Brenda Lee..." A few simple words. One sentence. I knew it marked the beginning of a road we would travel together now.  The road lay long and straight ahead of us. The sun was beginning to sink to our left. We both could feel the peaceful assurance that we were headed in the right direction. Home. Our home. None of this was going to be easy - and those few miles we road together in silence feeling that assurance continues to be my strength on our most difficult days together. The veil of forgetfulness that comes with age brings an undeniable fear of the unknown to her eyes on those days. Other days we laugh together - perhaps over how good dinner was... "I can't remember a thing I ate but it must have been delicious and I ate every bite because I'm so full now I need a nap." That evening we all laughed together and quite accurately my daughter described the moment as reminiscent of Pooh Bear innocence.

For years now I am certain she knew that it was coming. I believe that early on she heard the whisperings of the Spirit tell her that memory would slip from her grasp. She spoke of it often - always with fear of it's imminent approach. I would tell her that she was being ridiculous and to let it go. But she could not - she knew what I did not -- she knew.

I believe we all are given that "knowing" of things that we may not want to face. With the knowing comes the ability to prepare for the terrain ahead that will be laden with difficulties. It is a Peace Offering. In Augusten Burrough's book This is How he describes some of life's offerings this way - "Sometimes life hands us gift-wrapped shit. And we're like 'This isn't a gift; it's shit. Screw you." I love his brutal honesty about many of the experiences we would toss aside as worthless when in fact our life gardens cannot grow without them. My favorite way to deal with these packages is to look at them with disgust and toss them to the side. I'm not picking that up. And yet...I know. I recognize the wrapping paper.

I know.

I can recognize Peace even from a distance watching me - waiting patiently for me accept the offering. Really?? You can't give me something I would actually enjoy experiencing? No response. (Of course) Just a nod to pick up the gift, open it and move forward.  Somehow the package contents are always just what I need most - I just didn't know it until the life foliage around me began to bloom.    

It was my mother who joined me on the journey this past month. She is eighty six and beautiful inside and out. As her short term memory fades her recall of the past is illuminated. It is with joy she recounts her life. (A gift.) As she becomes more child like my children love to "play" with her. They spend hours together. One day driving 25 miles simply to enjoy a slice of cheesecake. It was after all national cheesecake day. (Another gift) I came home from work and my kitchen was spotless with every dish clean and put away. Who could be so thoughtful? Only a mom. (Wow...what a gift)

She was and still is afraid of the darkness that is front of her but she does not let that fear keep her from moving forward. Neither will I. I am sure we will find more packages to open along our way. I hope I recognize them for what they really are.

Fertilizer.

Tuesday
May222012

Tug. Pull. Stretch. Let Go...

 

My husband and I were enjoying lunch with our daughter recently when she started contorting her facial muscles in various movements that were quite entertaining to witness. We laughed a bit as she described her co workers witnessing the same thing in between customers at the busy coffee shop she works at in Boeing. She said that she was working on relaxing her facial muscles that were tight and she felt strongly were contributing to her recent headaches. She followed that up by saying she couldn't wait to get home and pull on her hair. And even though we once again all laughed at the visual image of her "hair pulling" the concept is actually sound.

These methods of gentle pulling and tugging at the head and facial muscles as a means of relaxation, tension release and stress relief can be highly effective. It also includes gently tugging on your ear lobes, raising your eyebrows and/or stretching them gently and opening your mouth as wide as you can, holding it there and then closing it. Each of these helps release the fascia and muscles beneath it. Fascia forms directly under the skin and serves as a strong layer of connective tissue between the skin and muscles underneath it. As I studied the effects of Fascia release and later Ayurveda in massage school I came to understand the importance of this simple and gentle pulling in relaxation of both the mind and the muscle.

The fascial system covers the entire body and is interconnected in a manner similar to a web. When one area of the web is loosened it affects the entire web. As gentle traction is applied to the restricted fascia it will result in heat and increased blood flow in the area. This allows the body's inherent ability for self correction to return, thus eliminating pain and restoring the optimum performance of the body. There is an "unwinding" that occurs as the facia is gently stretched and then released. So picture if you will a rope tightly twisted up on itself. As you examine the rope trying to decide how best to loosen and straighten it back out so that it is useful once again you can see that gently pulling and stretching, slowly unraveling the kinks will give you best results.

I was teaching a class a couple of years ago on this subject when a woman in the group who was from the Philippines spoke up. She told us that as a child if they were naughty her mother would take them aside and rather than give them a spanking she would massage their heads. This would release the negative energy they were carrying and relieve the tension that had built up. Once again a bit of laughter came from those of us in the room imagining a gentle head massage rather than a gentle spanking or the oh-so-effective "time out" for our own naughty children.

I began massage school when my youngest had just turned four and my oldest was just entering high school. That could be a whole "pursuing peace" story in itself... But for the sake of this post try to imagine my household lineup for massage practice. There was no way that I could give each of them (six as you may recall) full body massages even on a weekly basis. Thus began the practice of head, shoulder and foot massage before bed. I could easily address the needs of one or two of them each day both physically and emotionally by spending ten or fifteen minutes with these simple and highly effective massage techniques. Quiet in the beginning and often a bit uncomfortable as the fascia and muscles let go - it didn't take long for relaxation to set in and conversation about whatever their day held for them to give us quality bonding time in a simple setting. With that personal experience in my memory I could relate to my Philippine friend and her mother's head massages. It actually made perfect sense to me.

We are all going to experience stress. There are times in our life when it is going to seem like all we are capable of is treading water as the weight of our life circumstances threatens to pull us under. This is unavoidable. I have the greatest admiration for the daughter we shared a moment with this week. Barely 20 years old she is a single mother with a soon to be three year old. She works the 4:00 a.m. shift at a coffee shop in order to get off and still have time to spend with her beautiful daughter. She is in bed early foregoing many of the social activities of someone her age. She carries her responsibilities and worries with such grace. I know there are days when Peace seems out of her reach, when sleep is only a concept she vaguely remembers, and when the daily grind of life has left her spirit bruised. It is then that she always amazes me...just when the worried mom that I am is sure she can't possibly keep her head above water any longer - she starts swimming. Moving forward and finding Peace through simple means. Like laughing with her parents over lunch while doing a great work towards a peaceful evening - hair pulling.

The ideas you will find here are simple. They may not always be easy to implement but it isn't because they are difficult to do. It is a fact that people are often more willing to attempt something that requires much more effort and expense to solve a problem than something that is easily within their reach, ability, and budget. Give this one a try. I will outline some of the steps below. You can do them for yourself or have someone else try it while you close you eyes and relax.

Hair Pulling

Separate your fingers. Run them through your hair from the forehead back, when you have a handful of hair close your fingers and squeeze. Repeat starting in an inch or two back from where you began each time.

Take a hold of a fairly good sized chuck of hair at the base of the hair. Gently pull outward. Repeat all over the scalp. Twisting can be very beneficial as well but usually requires that the scalp already be somewhat loose.

Massage your head as you would if you were washing your hair.

Ear Tug

Gently pinch the ear lobe between your thumb and index finger. Pull the ear lobe in a down and out direction towards the same side shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds and release. Repeat.

Two other very simple places to hold the ear and pull are the index finger just inside the ear and the thumb behind the ear, and the index finger and thumb holding the top of the ear. Pull up and out. Hold for 30 seconds and release. Repeat.

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr192012

Dancing to life's rhythm...

Spring in the Northwest... the emerging of life in color from the veil of grey which winter holds here.

My son took this picture a couple of weeks ago.  It is one of my favorite streets to drive in town during the Spring bloom just as it is his.  He sent it to my phone.  Simple enough - a quick connection - and with it a reminder that I could glimpse Peace simply by driving home the long way that day.  This next photo was actually sent to me while I was creating this post.  (...hmm, imagine that...)  My younger son snapped this one while up at our cabin in the Cascade Mountains and with the magic that is Iphone I received his text moments later.  A chipmunk peaking out from his winter hideaway to take at look at what Spring has to offer him. They both thought they were simply sharing a moment of their lives with me.  They were... and I loved it.  What they were unaware of was that it was more than that - their photos reminded me that I too needed to awake from Winter's dormancy. 

My husband and I have often joked through the years that Spring- the season of all things Baseball and Softball in our home- pulls us out of our winter "sleep".  Perhaps (one could reason)  it is the fact that in Washington we play ball in the rain that we are so wide awake.  My daughter told me she actually experienced a "brain freeze" during a game in freezing sleet a couple of weeks ago.  We laughed together and shrugged it off.  Oh well - of course we sit in the bleachers with umbrellas, warm boots, long-johns, blankets, and portable heaters, to watch rain drip off the nose of our kids in ready position, slides never done better in two inches of mud, and the ball disappear into the farm land fog for a double. It's Spring.

Throughout our lives we cycle through periods of varying degrees of connection.  Reaching inward and outward in an ebb and flow similar to the tides.  My husband describes this as the rhythm of life.  At the time we weren't discussing Peace at all, rather the political/economic cycles we recognize and have witnessed over time.  As you become aware of this rhythm your view of the events around you become much more stable (...do I dare say "peaceful"?) even in the midst of great change.  As you fine tune your ability to  recognize the various cycles (rhythms) in your own life you will see them not just seasonally throughout the year but weekly -  even daily.  It is through this process that you can find balance and peace.  Life really isn't so random.  However, I do love that it appears so.

My nephew told me today that Spring is the time for answering the question "Who will I be this year?"  The picture of the chipmunk my son sent me seems to ask that very question as well.  A stretch, a look around, and a decision to explore. 

I believe many make the mistake of thinking that Peace = Solitude.  Although there are definately times when a need for solitude and self-reflection is necessary and beneficial for all of us, the vast majority of the time Peace is found by and through our connections with others and the world surrounding us.  Our ability to master the "dance steps" of life as we practice empathy, laughter, service, listening, playing, problem solving, and pondering (just to mention a few) is greatly increased with each personal connection we make.

Will there be six more weeks (days, months, years...) of "Winter" in your life? That is a question we each must answer for ourselves.  Perhaps, like Spring Sports at our house, there is something that gives you a much needed nudge back out into the elements of life this time of year.  Or, maybe all you need is a whisper - like the trees in bloom on my son's drive home.  As the world around us awakens, so can we. 

Peace dances to the rhythm of life.  You cannot partner with Peace for life's dance as a wall flower...you must explore the dance floor.