To my history students (and all my friends).... We will shortly mark a year of the physical separation that has kept us from sharing the joy of being together, learning together, caring together and for each other. Our "remote learning" has, however, taught me much.
What is often missing from the study of history, or at least very much de-emphasized, are the stories of love, sacrifice and selflessness that reflect the essence of what it means to be human. It is important to study the abuses and acts of oppression by those who seek to gain and hold power, to spread fear, anxiety, and hatred. Perhaps their acts were the result of the absence or intentional suppression of love.
We have all experienced the incredible warmth and power of loving kindness, as giver and receiver. There is no greater force. Seek out the stories of those whose acts of love and compassion have enhanced the lives of others.
Surround yourself with people whose life perspective is one of kindness and caring. Assess the value of your days based on the love and kindness that you have shown to yourself and others. When you wake, ask what love would have you do that day. Before you go to sleep, ask whether you showed your love and compassion for others as you might have wished. If not, then write your intention for the next day or reach out in an act of kindness that, in today’s digital world, we can do in writing 24/7.
The history of the past year is as important as any other. Words and acts of enmity, hatred and bigotry were in full view. But, so too, were examples of the power of collective innovation and creativity, compassion and support, caring and love. Embrace these stories. Envision and live a life of loving kindness that will brighten and give meaning to your days and to the future of the world. Make the history we'd all love to study.
This Stoic challenge is simple and straightforward, but not easy. We often face temptation to do otherwise because we perceive that it will help us socially or economically. In our hearts, however, we will know that we have compromised our integrity and our desire to be good and kind to all.
We can build a habit of always doing right and speaking truth. The first step is to pause and think before you speak or act, every time, even in the most mundane interactions or self-talk. You can then mindfully choose how to proceed, and to do so with genuineness and compassion. Embrace the temptations and prove to yourself that you have the inner strength to consistently live as a person of goodness and virtue.
You are not your upbringing, not your past acts or relationships, not your current or prior jobs, not who you were yesterday, and most importantly, not who others think you might be. Every day, you get to decide how you will speak and act, to decide what kind of person you want to be. Be true to yourself and you will never look back.
Like a river, life is constantly changing. No person or thing will ever bee the same after the present moment. Welcome and embrace the newness and wonder of change. Let go of your attachments. Ride the river of live and feel alive, energized and joyful no matter what comes your way.
Love is what makes you alive. It's kindness, compassion, wonder, suffering, joy - the miracle of connection to everyone and everything. It's the home you can always go to. Feel it, welcome it, spread it. Love.
It takes work to live a life of integrity/virtue, but it is a labor of beauty and love, not some grim duty. We have all experienced the joy of acting with kindness, generosity, love and compassion.
We can "train" for Aristotle's life of virtue by practicing two overarching habits. First, refrain from harm to yourself and others. Carefully consider your words and actions to say and do what you know to be true, right and good.
Second, actively express and cultivate compassion. Feel and share in the suffering of others and the physical world, and work to end that suffering. Be generous with your caring, time and resources. All beings deserve to be safe, healthy, happy and contented.
A life of virtue is its own reward - contentment in the midst of whatever comes your way.
Years ago, I posted that dogs are great role models. They are always living in and for the moment. They give their full attention to whomever or whatever they are engaged with. For our dog Hobie, it's playing fetch, 24/7.
Living in the present moment allows us to experience all that comes our way, which we might miss if our mind is wandering to the past or future. Being present also keeps our minds from unwelcome focus on worries and negativity. In the vast majority of our moments, we can find positivity or joy. Even in moments of suffering, our focus can offer lessons and meaning.
Every time you see a dog, perhaps think or say "thank you" for the reminder. Dogs aren't disappointed by expectations. They don't hold grudges. They love life. Be present, love life - it will love you back.
Heart wisdom from the Buddha.....
We can become the medicine
Others will be cruel, we shall be kind.
Others will be greedy, we shall be generous.
Others will speak falsely, we shall speak truth.
Others will be envious and jealous, we shall be appreciative.
Others will be arrogant, we shall be humble.
Others will be without compassion, we shall be established in compassion.
Thus, we shall incline the heart.
We can do this, we can live this. We need only set our intention and begin to try.
I like to think of this week's celebration as a combination of thanks + giving. An "attitude of gratitude" can be life changing and affirming, an appreciation of all that you have and experience, and a recognition that you are in control of your mind and spirit, and don't need anything else to be content.
"Giving" represents a life of compassion, the sharing of your heart with others. Compassion is an emotional connection with all who struggle with hatred, bigotry and discrimination, with economic hardship, hunger and homelessness, with mental and physical health issues, with tyranny and eroding or nonexistent freedoms, and a natural world challenged by a changing climate. As we share our hearts, we not only enrich our own lives with the warmth of endless love, but also spread caring and kindness to others that enriches those who need our support.
Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus and symbolizes the spiritual "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance". To live with this spiritual intention is to choose truth, kindness and compassion. Now more than ever, the world needs us to foster connections and to see and treat each other as members of one human community, a universal "us", where no "them" exists. We can do it. Try to live each day for light, goodness, knowledge and truth.
I miss you all. My family and friends, near and far, my former students and colleagues, my neighbors, strangers I might chat with out and about, people I will never meet. I miss the hugs, the laughter, the banter, the camaraderie, the shared experience of life.
But, I know that you are there and I send you my love, unconditionally, with all my heart. And, I can feel your love in return. I can soak in the sun, feel the breeze and marvel at the stars that we all share. Even in our physical separation, I find comfort and joy in our connection.
In a world of challenging news, suffering and division, our kindness and compassion feed a spirit that can uplift each and every moment. Give freely of your love to feel the joy of life.
Virtue, kindness and compassion start with your intention, your choice as to how you wish to live. As you remind yourself daily of your intentions, you will find that your actions more often match your intentions, and you feel the warmth of love and connection with those around you. Also, the more often you are fully present in the current moment, rather than thinking of the past or future, you will find your mind to be calm and ready to act with kindness, rather than quickly reacting in a way that you may later regret. Intention is the seed for a life of meaning. Commit yourself to truth, goodness and compassion. Begin to plant your intentions today.
Live life moving forward. We all have regrets of past words or acts, but those moments are behind us. Forgive them. Every new day is a clean slate; each moment is an opportunity to live as the person you want to be - good, kind and generous.
My recent re-reading of "Tattoos On The Heart" reconnected me with the boundless wisdom, love and compassion of Father Gregory Boyle, an incredibly inspiring mentor. His life's work with gang members recalls touching stories of courage, kindness and redemption. He speaks of the kinship of humans, a community standing in a circle of compassion. "Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle.....We stand with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless...the easily despised and readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away." I pledge to start today.
Even in ancient Rome, Seneca understood that a person's integrity is challenged daily. How do you respond? Do you try to do the virtuous thing? Or, perhaps, do you choose personal advantage, convenience or finances over fairness and good?
You only take your soul with you when you die. How do you want to look back on your life? What lessons do you want to leave to your loved ones? There is so much good that you can do for yourself, others and the world when you act with virtue. Think about that every time you consider compromising your integrity.
On 9/11, we reflect on our shared national tragedy, stories of selfless acts of bravery and sacrifice, and the heart-warming unity that followed. In today's America, it's clear that we desperately need this unity NOW. Not just today, but EVERY DAY, we should reach out to each other to find common ground, away from extreme and close minded views that promote hatred and division.
To help foster unity, let's make a daily effort to promote kindness and compassion, and to advocate for justice, fairness and respect. By showering each other with love, we can help drive out the hate that impairs unity, for hate is powerless in the face of love.
So much wisdom here, including the importance of forgiveness of yourself and others. We humans are far from perfect and can all recall times when we did not act or speak as we would have liked.
Marcus writes: "Whenever you take offense at someone's wrongdoing, immediately turn to your own similar failings..." Were you ill-intentioned when you acted or spoke poorly? Maybe just tired or overwhelmed? Most of us intend to be kind and caring. Let's not write off others so quickly when they do wrong. You've been there before. Give everyone another chance.
Follow today's recipe if you:
- Want to better yourself
- Want to make a difference
- Want to know how to do so more
effectively among diverse and challenging opinions
Don't forget to sprinkle in a healthy amount of PATIENCE and, for best results, add in a big helping of unconditional LOVE!
Contentment is the natural result of confidence to maintain your composure in the way things are. If we kindly and consistently work to make ourselves the best people we can be, then we can become so comfortable with ourselves that nothing can disturb our sense of and ability to speak and act with truth, goodness and compassion.
A perspective that prioritizes caring for others will help our quest for contentment. The competitive nature of modern society will challenge this perspective, but we can grow to embrace success and happiness for all. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous "Drum Major Instinct" sermon: "You want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. It's a good instinct if you don't distort it and pervert it. I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity."
Strive to live for others in this way and you will begin to accept and experience every day with newness, wonder and unshakeable contentment.
Your personal perspective is essential to examine because virtually every statement is one of opinion. What predispositions do I bring to my thoughts? When others disagree, what can I do to attempt to understand their perspective?
A self-centered viewpoint is like looking at a single tree in the forest. We can only appreciate the different perspectives on our world by actively becoming aware of and respecting the thoughts of others. While we don't walk in anyone else's shoes, a kind and compassionate person will take the time to listen and attempt to understand the lives of others and to care about them.
Ultimately, of course, we can't and shouldn't wish to control the thoughts and actions of others. The best we can do is to live a life of truth and righteousness, and to have patience for those who don't.
This moral challenge originates in Leviticus and directs us to fight injustice everywhere. "Do Not Stand Idly By" emerged after the Holocaust as a pledge in the continuing fight for human rights led by Elie Wiesel and others.
Unfortunately, horrific human rights violations occur daily in this world and demand our attention. In the U.S., we need look no further than our own communities to find pervasive racial, ethnic, religious, economic and social injustice. Working to end this injustice is our moral obligation. The legacy of all minorities who have suffered from discrimination and persecution in American history demands that we fight to end the injustice that exists NOW - be unafraid to speak out, to call out and crusade against hate and bigotry, to amplify the voices of those affected, most notably people of color.
We all suffer when our neighbors suffer, but our compassion and caring can bring about change. Get to work. Start some good trouble. Demand fairness and equality from those who would prefer that things stay the same. Spread lovingkindness. Do Not Stand Idly By.
John Lewis had a huge heart and undeniable drive for justice. His innate goodness moved all who encountered him, even those with whom he had political disagreements. He was a tireless fighter and champion of freedom and an acute observer of society's injustices that denied the humanity of people of color and other minorities.
It is our charge to continue to highlight and address continuing injustice, to make some "good trouble." As LZ Granderson writes in his wonderfully emotional and challenging article in today's LA Times, "comfort doesn't bring change; only 'good trouble' does... In our drive to bring equality and freedom to all, we must feel and create the discomfort that facilitates meaningful change. John Lewis, your spirit and inspiration lives on and moves us; words cannot truly express the measure of your impact. Thank you.
The Dalai Lama is said to exude serenity and goodness at all times, inspiring loving kindness in all who encounter him. As I very much aspire to grow toward these character traits, I look to the Dalai Lama as a mentor. His many writings, talks and his mere image are wonderful motivation for me to work toward a life of tranquility and unconditional goodness.
In what ways do you want to grow? Who might you look to as role models? Mentors can have a profound influence on our lives - we need not have met them to learn much and become inspired by their lives. There are no limits to your choice of a mentor. Find a new mentor today.
Recognizing and accepting the truth is essential to the well being of individuals and of society. Start with yourself. Personal integrity requires complete honesty at all times. You know when you might be tempted to stray from the truth - instead embrace it and feel your growing contentment with living life as it really is, with all its ups and downs, avoiding the stress and tension that arises from self dishonesty.
Live truth in your relationships with others - say only what you mean, don't debase or gossip, let your words exude kindness and love. Be an model of acceptance, tolerance and equanimity.
Finally, insist on truth from others, leaders and society in general. Many will distort the truth to serve their own personal interest, apparently unconcerned with their own integrity and the harm that they cause to others. True freedom and justice is only possible if we demand that society operate on complete honesty and support those who uncover and report the truth.
Only you can judge whether you are living as you intend, progressing toward your goals, feeding and sharing your heart and soul. As I've often written, frequent self-reflection provides a necessary measure of your growth.
The words and acts of others can serve as valuable lessons and raise important questions. Role models and mentors are essential guides for your journey. But, your learning, words and acts should be carefully considered and chosen by you to serve your character. Never let the opinion of another replace your own. Believe in yourself. It's your life.