Why Bother Talking With Strangers?

Why Bother Talking With Strangers?

Recently, while taking a walk in the park with my camera trying to capture the beauty of the fall colors, I noticed an artist and stopped to admire his work. He was also trying to catch the beauty, but with a paintbrush and canvas instead of a camera. I stood under the canopy of red and orange leaves and looked at the outline of a tree on his canvas. Wishing I had his talent, I struck up a conversation with him. 

A Fresh Perspective

He told me he’d grown up as a native and graduated from the local high school. It had been about ten years since he’d done much drawing or painting. I told him I worked as an elementary school teacher and had lived in the neighborhood for about thirty years. He smiled to himself and then related to me what kind of a student he’d been while in school. “I was like a vegetarian wolf,” he told me. “I did not fit in.”

I’d never heard the term, “vegetarian wolf,” but the words gave me an instant and vivid picture. I visualized a lone wolf chewing grass on a hillside, while the rest of the pack chowed down on freshly killed meat. But I also wondered how a vegetarian wolf would be treated by the rest of the pack? What would they think of him? Would they still let a vegetarian wolf live with them? 

I told the artist I had a few vegetarian wolves in my classroom and then thought about how those kids might feel. I know as a teacher, they force me to stretch and grow. Since they are unlike the rest of the class, I have to come up with different strategies to teach them. They take a bit more of my energy, but I appreciate them just as much if not more than the “carnivore wolves.” And somehow, we all have to learn to get along with each other.  

The next day, I returned to the park to capture some more of the beauty of the fall season and again I saw the artist. The tree outline on his canvas had taken on more detail, but still no leaves had appeared on his tree. I worried the weather might turn cold and wet before he got the colors onto his canvas. He told me one of his downfalls was control. He wanted to get the tree trunk and branches just right before he added the color. But he said, at some point he had to let go of his commanding desire for perfection, and just let the art happen. I had to admit his words hit home with me. I often try to control and when I do, I have to remind myself to allow things to unfold in their time and in their way. I don’t know if I will ever see this stranger again, but in talking with him, I was given a fresh perspective on some old ideas.  

Why bother talking with strangers? Striking up a conversation with people we do not know may show us a fresh way of looking at the old.

Why Bother Letting Go Of False Guilt?

Why Bother Letting Go of False Guilt?

Among my variety of friends, I have noticed how some of them carry more false guilt than others. My observational data shows how most of those who are first born children or older children in the family are the ones who feel the most obligated. Those farther down the ladder in birth order feel it less, if at all. Sometimes, I get to be a trusted listener when a friend unpacks some of their deep seated beliefs and when they do, they begin to realize how false guilt is actually futile thinking. 

Letting Themselves off the Hook

A relative of mine once said that guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. But I would clarify the statement to say that false guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. True guilt drives us toward change. When I unleash my anger and offend someone with my words, I am guilty of wrongdoing. When I feel remorse for hurting someone, I am motivated to repair the damage. Somehow, I will ask the one I offended to forgive me and hopefully they will. True guilt drives us to do right after doing wrong. True guilt does not linger. It does not continue to accuse, unlike false guilt.

False guilt pushes us toward trying to do the impossible. It talks us into doing a particular task, favor, chore, or job in order to keep the peace or make someone else happy. Other times, we are driven by false guilt into “shoulding” on ourselves. We tell ourselves we “should” do this task, favor, chore or job because we are the oldest, because Mother would want me to, or because no one else will. 

One thing is true about false guilt: it never takes a rest. Though making another person happy is impossible, false guilt tells us to keep on trying. Though we may want to go against the grain of our birth order and try not be so obsessive about feeling responsible for everything, false guilt warns us of the possible consequences.  We can’t shun our duty because the world may come to an end.  Even if Mother is long gone and in the grave, false guilt can still use the sound of her voice in our head, warning us of the things we should and should not do. Yes, false guilt is the gift that keeps on giving. Just thinking about letting it go can make us feel guilty. But setting ourselves free from it is similar to disassociating ourselves from a tyrannical taskmaster. 

Why bother letting go of false guilt? False guilt is worth letting go of when we ask ourselves this question, “Who wants futile thinking to be in charge of their lives?” Not me!

Why Bother Remembering Our Religious Upbringing?

Why Bother Remembering Our Religious Upbringing? 

My parents were both raised Catholics, and they in turn raised my siblings and me in the same religion. As infants, we were all baptized, and later, attended parochial school where we received instruction for the sacraments; confession, communion, and confirmation. Like all the other eight-year-old, while in second grade, I underwent training for my first confession before making my first communion. 

    Confession

I recall sitting in the large classroom with the other thirty or so other second grade classmates of mine trying hard to keep my eyes on the teacher, a nun wearing the traditional black robe and habit which framed her white wrinkly face.  She explained the doctrine of sin, but I just did not see how it applied to me. Although I had seen my oldest brother get angry and cuss, I could not recall any of my own offenses. I’d never been spanked, scolded or sent to my room without dinner. I didn’t whine, complain or talk back to my parents, let alone any other adult. My siblings had dubbed me the “angel” of the family because I never did anything wrong. 

Evidently, even though my comprehension of this particular doctrine was little to none, I was not exempt from making my first confession.  The next morning, I followed my classmates  over to the church and waited in line to make my first confession. I stood with my hands folded in front of me and chewed on my lower lip. Even the boys, normally fidgety and giving everyone goofy looks, appeared solemn and serious.  Then it was my turn. I stepped inside the confessional and closed the door quietly behind. Kneeling down, I waited. Finally, I heard a little wooden panel slide open and a deep voice spoke, “What sins do you have to confess, my child?” 

Making the sign of the cross and remembering my part I said, “Bless me father, for I have sinned and this is my first confession.”

“What are your sins?” he asked.

Then, I froze. We had not practiced this part of the ceremony and the only sins I knew of were those of my brother. “I got mad and cursed,” I stammered. The unseen man on the other side of the panel gave me my penance, “Say three Hail Marys, and go in peace.”

I left the confessional and made my way to the nearest pew to say my three Hail Marys. All the while I wondered if these prayers would cover the lie I’d just told or the sins of my brother.  

Though I never became a devout Catholic like my parents, the religious upbringing they provided me with, planted two important concepts into my young life. First, there is Someone greater than me and secondly, we all need forgiveness even if don’t think we do. 

Why bother remembering our religious upbringing? It is worth recalling our religious upbringing because more than likely, there is a seed of truth to be nurtured.

Why Bother Applauding Volunteerism?

Why Bother Applauding Volunteerism?

As an elementary public school teacher, I teach all the subjects to my fourth graders; math, reading, history, science, and writing. I could teach one subject a day for a year and still not get through all the content of any one of the curricula. Though I know more about these subjects than my fourth graders, and consider myself a lifelong learner, my knowledge is not as deep as I would like it to be. So, I applaud the volunteers who willingly and without pay, spend time in my classroom sharing their expertise with my students and with me. 

      The Willing Experts

Fourth grade is the year students learn about the history of Idaho and this year I began with the unit on the geography of Idaho. Our state has some spectacular landscapes; deep lakes, raging rivers, steep mountains and volcanic rock beds. Since I don’t know everything about geography, I recently invited Tony, a retired geography professor, into my classroom to teach my students and I about the history behind how some of the lakes in our area were formed. I know some vague facts about the glaciers and how they shaped some of the landscape, but Tony’s life is steeped in the study of land formations. 

Tony tromped down to my classroom carrying a bag of rocks, his briefcase of brochures and large maps tucked under his arm. He taught at the college level, so I was a little worried about how he was going to relate to my high energy fourth graders who lack much self-control. But Tony was not taken aback by them.

He showed them pictures of wooly mammoths, let them hold various rocks left behind by the glaciers, and held up big colorful maps of our lake to explain its unusual shape. He held his audience captive for most of the time and when he didn’t, he knew how to capture it once again. 

Two days later, we met up with Tony again, this time on location. We drove to different points on our lake and Tony’s narration from the classroom came alive as we stood on the windy shoreline looking out at the lake and mountains. I could imagine the ice flow coming down from Canada, and carving out the landscape of where I stood. I’m not sure what my students imagined as they shuffled their feet in the rocks and inched their way too close to the drop-off.  But Tony was not taken aback by their high energy. He seemed to soak it in and enjoy it.  

Afterward, Tony and I exchanged a few words with each other. 

“God bless you for teaching these kids,” he said.

“God bless you for crossing over the threshold of your retirement and into my world,” I replied. 

Why bother applauding volunteerism? I am grateful for those who possess more knowledge than me and who willingly step into my world to share their expertise. We all benefit from each other.

Why Bother Talking About Family Trauma?

Why Bother Talking About Family Trauma?

I remember my mom often said, “Don’t dwell on the past.” But dwelling on the past and learning from it are different. To dwell means to put your stakes down, inhabit, and abide. To learn implies to realize, comprehend or get the idea. Though our past is behind us, it has a way of continuing to influence us, especially if we experienced any childhood trauma. At the age of twelve, my father committed suicide. Though my three brothers and three sisters and I all experienced the same trauma, we did not all experience it in the same way simply because of our age.

      Learning From Each Other

At the time of my dad’s death, my youngest sibling was nine, the oldest was twenty-one. We all went to bed one night knowing our father was alive, but the next day, everything in our lives went sideways. Suddenly, mysteriously and without any explanation, my dad had vanished from planet Earth. Back in the 1970s, suicide was not a topic families discussed openly and for that reason, my mother’s explanation to me about my father’s death went like this;

“Your father is dead.”

“How?”

“His heart just stopped.”

Her commentary on his demise left me with a load of suspicion and finding out the truth became paramount to me. In a large family like mine, the older siblings always knew more than me. If I asked an older sister for the truth, she would tell me. Indeed she did, yet her honesty left me reeling in confusion. 

Though Dad’s death was an enormous life changing event for each of us, no one ever said anything about it. In essence, we were all left to ourselves to sort through the rubble and find our own way to survive. And most of us did. 

Though my dad’s suicide is ancient history, only recently has it become a topic of discussion among my siblings and me. And in talking about it, I’ve realized I was not alone in some of the issues I wrestled with. It seems most of us grew up with a certain degree of mistrust, a bit of anger, some shame and a lot of confusion. As adults, we learned to cover our imperfections with busyness, appearing more confident than we felt and though we had it all together, and maintaining  an emotional defensive stance. Communicating with my siblings about our shared trauma, all of us longed for trustworthy intimacy, but letting down our guards was often, too much of a risk. 

Talking about the past with some of my brothers and sisters has given me insight into their struggles as well as my own. Sharing our common sorrow has brought us closer together and made us a little more empathic toward one another. 

Why bother talking about family trauma? Denying the bombshell that blew apart a family does nothing to mend broken hearts. Whereas talking about it can lead to understanding each other a little bit better and comprehending why it is the way we are.

Why Bother Counting Your Blessings? Part 2

Why Bother Counting Your Blessings?

Part 2

In my last blog, it seems that listing my blessings only made me think of more. So, I am going to continue with the things I am grateful for in this blog.

Why consider our blessings? Why take note of the great and small benefits in our lives? What do we gain when we acknowledge how fortunate we truly are? Allowing  ourselves to take inventory of our daily, bountiful gifts fills our hearts with gratitude and spills over. This gratitude in turn, creates a wave of gratefulness and splashes into the faces of others, waking them up to gratefulness.  

Mindset of Gratitude

Being grateful begins by paying attention and not taking for granted, the normal and the daily goodness we encounter.  Most days I wake up refreshed and energized with the ability to go through the routine of my day which begins with a swim at the health club, a run, or yoga. I am grateful my energy level and wellness is stable and health is not an issue, it is the norm. 

Friendships old and new bring comfort and encouragement. To share a meal, to take a walk, to converse about hopes for the future and our present trials is more than enjoyable, it is needful. We were created to relate, to know others and to be known by them. I am thankful for the people in my life with whom I have a long or short history and who are willing to call me their friend.

I am grateful for a car that runs, getting me safely from point A to point B and not stranding me by the side of the road. 

I am grateful I can take in the beauty of creation and all it offers in the fall season. It is hard not to appreciate the bouquet of colors displayed on the landscape this time of year. My favorite tree is the tamarack. Its needles turn golden and can be seen on the hillsides contrasted against the green pines. Though I know the beauty of fall is short lived, I get to live in it and enjoy it for the time it is here. 

Then there are the salmon colored clouds in eastern sky just before the sunrise and the orange orb of the sun as it sets. 

In short, there are more things to be grateful for than can be listed and being grateful is sometimes hard to express in words. Yet, I think we all know when we have been with people who are grateful and how being in their presence makes our heart glad. 

Why bother counting your blessings? It is worth it to begin listing the goodness in your life. When you do, you and someone else will wake up to gratefulness. 

 

Why Bother Counting Your Blessings?

Why Bother Counting Your Blessings?

Why consider our blessings? Why take note of the great and small benefits in our lives? What do we gain when we acknowledge how fortunate we truly are? Allowing  ourselves to take inventory of our daily, bountiful gifts fills our hearts with gratitude and spills over. Our gratitude creates a wave of gratefulness and splashes into the faces of others, waking them up to gratefulness.  

Mindful 

Being grateful begins by paying attention to the normal and the daily goodness we encounter.  When I set my automatic coffee maker at night, I get to wake up to the smell of coffee. Holding the hot, colorful cup in my hands, feeling the steam on my face and taking the first sip of the dark brew is how my work day begins. Seeing, smelling and touching are nothing that I take for granted, rather these senses arouse my heart to a feeling of gratefulness.  

I have a job that I mostly enjoy and am paid a fair wage. My co-workers spur me on in my profession so that I do not become stagnant. My students are lively, animated and unique, so every day has its own set of surprises. I get to go to a job that is both satisfying and challenging. Thinking this way about my work gives me the wherewithal to keep my focus and energy where it belongs for the duration of the school day. Having a grateful attitude energizes not only me, but all those big and little lives surrounding mine.  

Monday through Friday leaves little time for leisure, but my weekends open up at least a few hours for breathing space. I sleep longer in the mornings, linger over breakfast and read a good book later into the night. I don’t live for the weekends, but when they come around, I see and enjoy them for the gifts they are.  

Relationships are nothing we own, rather they are something offered to us. Some friendships are longer lasting, deeper and richer than others, but all have value. I am thankful for the one man in my life who remains faithful to me and to our marriage. When our union began, there were no guarantees of how long it would last, but our commitment to each other has lasted a long time. There is no one who knows me better and loves me in spite of all my obvious foibles. But, this lasting and happy marriage is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given. 

Why bother counting your blessings? It is worth it to begin listing the goodness in your life. When you do, you and someone else will wake up to gratefulness.

Why Bother To Live Without Regrets?

Why Bother To Live Without Regrets?

Like being shackled to a heavy iron ball and chain around the ankle, regrets are weighty and encumber our lives. When we drag remorse around with us through life, we find our freedom limited. But, we don’t have to live shackled lives. We possess the power that unlocks us from our remorse.

 Begin Today

Every day is a new day and an opportunity for a fresh start. We may not be able to go back in our past and repair the damage already done to a relationship, but we can live in the present moment in such a way that nurtures the connections we do have and maybe even gain a few new ones along the way.

Displaying an attitude of humility and modesty disarms even the most aggressive and angry individual. Being right is not usually a matter of life and death, it only feels that way at times. When we allow another person to voice their thoughts and opinions with whatever degree of passion they feel, we are allowing them to be heard. We don’t have to take what they say personally, agree with them or even make a comment. They most likely don’t have a bone to pick with us, nor do they need our advice, they simply desire someone to hear them out. Just listen and validate them by saying, “It makes sense you would feel that way.” 

I admire the people who serve me; waitresses, grocery clerks, and anyone behind a counter.  They have a special knack for common courtesies, and kind and polite words. Even when it is not their fault, they know how to diffuse tension when there is a complaint or misunderstanding with two little words, “I’m sorry.” “Please and thank-you” roll naturally off their tongue and they are not afraid to make eye contact. Their smiles are genuine and done with ease. In general, they aim to serve  the general public to the best of their ability and when you leave their presence, it is usually with a pleasant memory of your experience with them. 

Be generous with forgiveness. Most of us are clumsy when it comes to communicating our thoughts and emotions. We say too much or not enough and are misunderstood more than we are understood. Yet our expectations of others can be too great. We want them to appreciate us, and get our ideas even when they are incomplete. But, when we remember no one is perfect or faultless then we put ourselves on the same level ground as the next human being. We all need to be generous and lenient toward each other. 

Why bother to live without regrets? It is worth our time and effort to be kind, polite, understanding, generous with forgiveness, humble and polite. Then we live unencumbered and freely.

Why Bother Telling The Truth?

Why Bother Telling The Truth?

There are two little words that reveal much about our character; “yes” and “no.”

If our yes means yes and our no means no, then others will know we mean what we say. But, if our “yes” is not an honest affirmation, then neither will our “no” be a legitimate “certainly not.” And if we cannot be candid with these two simple words, then how trustworthy are we? 

Pleasing Others

Pleasing others is a costly way to live; it costs us our authenticity. To say, “yes,” only because we think that is what someone wants to hear us say, is to live unauthentic lives. Try saying, “yes” while shaking your head “no.” It is not an easy feat, only a confounding one. When we say “yes” when we really want to say, “no,” our emotions are baffled by the mixed message. We know what we want to say, but we back down from stating our truth. We may think we should say “yes” to avoid conflict, or someone’s dislike for us, but our dishonesty with ourselves and others only muddies the water in a relationship. If we say “yes,” but really mean “no,” feelings of unmet expectations and resentments begin to form between ourselves and the other person. We may begin to blame them for always wanting something from us; our time, energy, or advice. Because of our pride, we don’t want to let them down, but always rising to the occasion and meeting their needs only cements a sense of dishonesty between us. We meet their expectations only to be asked again and again and again. After a while, we may use avoidance behaviors. If I avoid them, they can’t ask me to do something and I don’t have to tell them, “no.” But, wouldn’t it be easier just to tell them “no?”   

“No” is a very powerful word. Learning to say it saves us much time and energy at pretending. Saying “no,” informs others of my boundaries. When possible, I will give my time, energy or advice, but I am not always at someone’s disposal. I have my limits, I know them, and I can live comfortably within the parameters I set for myself. Saying “no,” without feeling like you have to attach a reason to it or a “sorry,” is a giant leap. Letting your “yes,” mean “yes,” and your “no,” mean “no,” is the easiest way for others to know what you mean. Standing in your truth can only make you stronger in your relationships. 

Why bother telling the truth? It is worth the effort to stand in your truth. It can only make for clearer and better relationships.

Why Bother To Be Influenced?

Why Bother To Be Influenced?

Who are those who influence our lives and how is it we allow them to influence us? I think one of the character qualities that allows someone to impel or direct our lives toward change is trust. Trustworthy people win the confidence of others and move them toward living better lives. Secondly, those who influence us, knows us. Strangers are not known to compel us, but friends and acquaintances give our lives directions.

 Good Guidance

When I began practicing yoga, I did so in a fairly small community of other yogis. Every Saturday morning and Wednesday afternoon, I attended the classes offered at our local health club. There, unrolling my mat alongside the other practitioners, I learned the flow of breath and asanas. It was a friendly and unassuming group of men and women and I felt comfortable quickly. The teacher encouraged us to practice to the best of our abilities honoring our own level of potential. It was, after all, a one room schoolhouse, so to speak and we were all at different levels. Some had been practicing yoga before yoga mats had ever been invented while others, like me, were fairly new at it. No matter our ability, beginning or advanced, we knew better than to compare ourselves with anyone else in the room. Yoga, after all, is not a competitive sport.

Like churchgoers having their preselected Sunday morning pew, yogis too have a tendency to place themselves in the same space in a room. I liked unrolling my mat next to an elderly woman named Judy. Her calm and friendly demeanor made conversation before and after class easy and we became fast friends. One Saturday, she told me she was enrolling in a 200 hour teacher’s yoga training. I was impressed. She was at least twenty years older than me and yet her age did not inhibit her from taking her yoga to a deeper level. For the next several weeks she was gone from class and when she returned, she had completed her training and passed her test. Now she would be one of the instructors at the health club. 

I began attending Judy’s classes along with my other yoga classes and one day she approached me about becoming a yoga instructor. “You know, if I can become a certified instructor, you can too.” Her words caused me to pause. Her zeal for learning inspired me as did her courage to try something new. Her confidence was contagious and I was encouraged to consider the possibility of taking my practice to a new level. We discussed the teaching program, and the cost and by that winter I had enrolled in a 200 hour teacher certification class.  

Then I returned to class, this time as Judy’s substitute teacher. Our bond as friends  deepened and a respect for each other as teachers grew. Judy’s influence in my life changed my life, for the better. 

Why bother to be influenced? It is worth allowing a trustworthy person to influence our lives for the better so that in turn, our lives will be changed for the better.