Monday, 15 April 2013

The Wind is Blowing

Spring in northern New Mexico often brings along gusty conditions and sometimes relentless wind that seems not to stop, just subside for awhile before picking up again.  It also brings a lot of dust and sand and a high pollen count which contributes to the allergy suffering of dripping, runny noses, itching eyes and lots of sniffles.  But, it's a warm, sunny day and for that I am grateful as it allowed me time to be outside in spite of the wind to get some work done.  I often think about the wind, along with the other basic elements of earth,water and fire and sometimes even the fifth element that refers to the non-material world, much more prevalent in Hindu and Buddhist philosophies.

What interests me about the wind is that we never really see it, or at least I don't, but we do see the effects of it.  The wind blows, the trees sway back and forth, their branches doing some kind of ritualistic Spring dance, the chickens' feathers fluff out and the dog raises his nose catching some kind of scent nearby.  The tall grass waves away from the wind and bends near to the ground as if bowing to a superior force and allowing it to pass.  We can even hear the wind blowing through the trees, see the ripples on the water and learn how to read the signs.  The wind just whistled through my screen door which is open to the outside today.   It was a short, high pitched kind of sound, just part of my observation of the moment.

I remember that the Greek word for breath is pneuma from which comes pneumonia and pneumatic.  Without air we would not live as our lungs breathe in and out almost automatically.  But when we stop for a moment and become aware of our breathing and consciously take it in and let it out, the  equation changes and we're much more in tune.  In another context that word is translated as "spirit" as it shares so many characteristics of air or wind.  You cannot see your spirit or that of another but you can see the effects.  Karl Menninger used to ask his patients upon dismissal, "How's your spirit today?"   He knew, as many others have come to know, that vitality and vibrancy of spirit influence and shape much of the rest of our lives whether physical, mental, emotional.

Those of us who sail are particularly attuned to the wind as are many others who spend a considerable amount of time outdoors.  The Biblical admonition about sowing the wind and reaping the whirlwind was in the context of an agricultural setting but really refers to poor choices leading to disastrous consequences.  The winds continue to blow and we don't really know where they originated or where they are going.  Even the meteorologists who track these patterns know that they are subject to change.  Ah, the winds of change.  Now there's something to pursue.  I will, just as soon as the wind stops blowing.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Trauma, Tragedy and Coping

Life is filled with surprises, sad and glad, and most of us know by now that life can change on a dime or be turned upside down (or even right side up) in an instant.  Life is fragile, precious, and at best unpredictable.  It's good to make plans, even if God laughs, as it's some kind of insurance for tomorrow and all the days that may lie ahead.   But, dear friends, there are simply no guarantees.  No one has promised us that we will have a good life,  Most of that is up to us and the choices we make along the way.  And even then, detritrus decides or there are times when poop presides.  I am not one who believes that accidents just happen.  I think that all the ugly, awful stuff has root causes if we're willing to stop, look and listen.

We can reference tragedies such as 911 and Sandy Hook or even the recent mayhem in Iraq and Afghanistan where the tragic loss of life was traumatic for so many others.  Many survivors of war and other horrendous events have a diagnosis called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  These events are so against our human nature as to be more than offensive and disgusting.  They produce reactions and responses that are often so irrational and unthinking to the point of making people somewhat unbalanced in their words and actions. However, in others the response is a call to action to correct what's wrong, to work for justice and peace, to find ways to celebrate life and appreciate each day as a gift and see what we can make of it.

A friend of mine, often in response to a crisis, was frequently heard to say, "It's not a tragedy. No one has died and one one has cancer."  And she was right and in that moment, the remark helped give some perspective to others who were caught up in the drama to regain a little balance and move on.  A crisis is not a tragedy but merely a crossroads and as many know, the Chinese characters for crisis are translated as "dangerous opportunity."  One effective strategy is to consciously and intentionally choose how you will respond rather than reacting immediately through an emotional upheaval that renders you and others around you as helpless victims.  Do not seek to blame others but find your way through the valley of the shadow so you can learn from the experience and come out better on the other side.  Yes, it takes time and sometimes help from others.

There is plenty of suffering in most families lives, whether in illness, fractured relationships, the  economy, or sometimes in the stress of every day demands and expectations.  Cancer is rampant and it is rare that you don't know someone who has suffered or is suffering with that dread disease.  The three leading causes of death among teenagers in the U.S. are vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide. Each of these are caused, nothing accidental about them.   Mental health for both young and old is a growing concern.  We are in the midst of a health care crisis in this country and the outcome is unclear.

The other side of this trauma/tragedy/crisis situation is the opportunity that we have to help ourselves and others to walk through these events and days to a place where there is still wonder, joy and something much larger at work on a very big playing field.  We have to get some perspective to have a longer and more expansive view to understand how this or that event fits into a bigger plan, what our part is in it and how we can learn and gain from the experience such that will take us to a better place. This is a place of gratitude, of deep and genuine appreciation for what we have been given and the opportunity to look up and move on.  It's all part of the process of learning, evolving, growing and changing.  Augustine put it in terms of the temporal versus eternal and you can put it however you choose.  After all is said and done, it really is up to you.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Beyond the Numbers

I just read a piece called "Six Ways to Become a Wise Leader"  (good advice) and it reminded me of so many books, articles and presentations that create a numerical list.  The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was a highly popular book with over 10 million sold.  And then there is a more ancient text called "The Ten Commandments."   Why is it that the "top ten" or the "sweet sixteen" "elite eight" and "final four" carry so much attraction?  Or do they?   Who has the time, interest or inclination to review "the top 100 songs?"   In fact there is a list of the top tens that list just about everything you can think of from the top ten cars to the top ten tips for staying safe online.  You can find the lists here:  Ten seems to be the preferred number when creating lists.  It's the same number of most telephone numbers including the area code.  Maybe it's what the mind can grasp and hold onto.

How about the top three?  Let's condense ten to three and force people to make some hard choices.  Letting go may be as important as holding onto.  It could be a revealing exercise to have to decide what is most important, according to your own values and beliefs and understand why one item is more important than another.  What you discard may say as much as what you keep.  I am facing that exercise in the coming weeks as I try to eliminate some stuff, especially clothes and personal belongings, in order to reduce what I perceive as excess.  Why keep this piece and why eliminate that one?  Shouldn't be too hard if one is in the frame of mind to eliminate.  A number of us have a tendency to accumulate without balancing accumulation with expulsion

Beyond possessions and material objects, how would you go about making a list of the top ten most important values in your life?  What is that which you hold most precious, most valuable and and of greatest worth?  As we move through this Spring, a time for growth and new life in our natural surroundings, at least in the northern hemisphere,  we will have numerous opportunities to examine why, how and where we want to invest our time, energy and resources.  Now, I need to get busy planning, sorting, finishing, planning, sorting, finishing and planning, sorting, finishing.  It's all a process of unfolding, evolving, engaging and celebrating.  Onward!