Open to surprise.

surprise

How much do our expectations get in the way of our gratefulness? If we were expecting nothing, would our eyes open more to all the gifts we receive each day. Brother David Steindhal-Rast explores just this link between surprise and gratitude:

Have you ever noticed how your eyes open a bit wider when you are surprised? It is as if you had been asleep, merely day-dreaming or sleepwalking through some routine activity, and you hear your favorite tune on the radio, or look up from the puddles on the parking lot and see a rainbow, or the telephone rings and it’s the voice of an old friend, and all of a sudden you’re awake. Even an unwelcome surprise shakes us out of complacency and makes us come alive. We may not like it at first, but looking back, we can always recognize it as a gift. Humdrum equals deadness; surprise equals life. In fact, my favorite name for the One I worship in wonder – the only name that does not limit God – is Surprise.

Right this moment, as I remember spiritual giants I have been privileged to meet – Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, His Holiness the Dalai Lama – I can still feel the life energy they radiated. But how did they come by this vitality? There is no lack of surprises in this world, but such radiant aliveness is rare. What I observed was that these people were all profoundly grateful, and then I understood the secret.

Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise

A surprise does not make us automatically alive. Aliveness is a matter of give-and-take, of response. If we allow surprise to merely baffle us, it will stun us and stunt our growth. Instead, every surprise is a challenge to trust in life and so to grow. Surprise is a seed. Gratefulness sprouts when we rise to the challenge of surprise. The great ones in the realm of Spirit are so intensely alive because they are so deeply grateful.

Gratefulness can be improved by practice. But where shall beginners begin? The obvious starting point is surprise. You will find that you can grow the seeds of gratefulness just by making room. If surprise happens when something unexpected shows up, let’s not expect anything at all. Let’s follow Alice Walker’s advice. “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise.”

To expect nothing may mean not taking for granted that your car will start when you turn the key. Try this and you will be surprised by a marvel of technology worthy of sincere gratitude. Or you may not be thrilled by your job, but if for a moment you can stop taking it for granted, you will taste the surprise of having a job at all, while millions are unemployed. If this makes you feel a flicker of gratefulness, you’ll be a little more joyful all day, a little more alive.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all.

Once we stop taking things for granted our own bodies become some of the most surprising things of all. It never ceases to amaze me that my body both produces and destroys 15 million red blood cells every second. Fifteen million! That’s nearly twice the census figure for New York City. I am told that the blood vessels in my body, if lined up end to end, would reach around the world. Yet my heart needs only one minute to pump my blood through this filigree network and back again. It has been doing so minute by minute, day by day, for the past 75 years and still keeps pumping away at 100,000 heartbeats every 24 hours. Obviously this is a matter of life and death for me, yet I have no idea how it works and it seems to work amazingly well in spite of my ignorance.

I do not know how my eyes adapt, yet when I chant by candlelight they are 100,000 times more sensitive to light than when I read outdoors on the porch at noon. I wouldn’t know how to give instructions to the 35 million digestive glands in my stomach for digesting one single strawberry; fortunately, they know how to do their job without my advice. When I think of this as I sit down to eat, my heart brims with gratefulness.

From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights.

In those moments, I can identify with the Psalmist who cried out in amazement, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps.139:14) From there it is only a small step to seeing the whole universe and every smallest part of it as surprising. From the humble starting point of daily surprises, the practice of gratefulness leads to these transcendent heights. Thomas Carlyle pointed to these peaks of spiritual awareness when he wrote, “Worship is transcendent wonder” – transcendent surprise.

Surprise is a seed; let it sprout and blossom today to color your life with gratitude.

 

 

Smile.

smile

You want to start a chain reaction that can circle the globe and find its way back to you?

Smile.

To get you started, here is a darling video of a girl dancing with her dog.

Loving thy neighbor.

worldpeace

When you have the power, or are on top, or when everything is going your way, it’s only natural to want to strut. You don’t want to think about a time when you might be powerless, on the bottom, or have the world against you.

That’s a downer, isn’t it?

But that’s exactly where religion urges us to go, to think about the world from other perspectives, to consider what life is like for people without your privilege, to have empathy with the unfortunate. Because, after all, if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you hope they would look out for you?

I shall not pass this way again.

passthroughlife

There is an elephant in the room. We don’t talk about it, we try not to think about it, we pretend it doesn’t exist. That elephant is the fact that we are all on a one way journey through this life. Our time is limited. None of us knows in advance when our end of the journey will come, but that end will come.

When we pull ourselves out of denial and gaze directly at this elephant, we can realize something important: our opportunities should be seized now. That good we can do? Don’t put it off. That kind word? Say it. That gift or remembrance? Give it now.

We will not have this place and time and opportunity to make a difference again.

Stand convicted of positive thinking.

positive thinking

How will we use our words?

William Zinsser notes:

“Writers can write to affirm and to celebrate, or they can write to debunk and to destroy; the choice is ours.”

But we all have that choice, don’t we? Not just the artists and writers. We all are choosing what we say, how we respond, where we focus our emphasis. We each can choose to lift others up by focusing on the positive.

Mistakes are to learn from.

mistakes

Mistakes are inevitable. As you practice a piano piece, you’ll hit some clunkers. Go on. As you learn to walk, you’ll stumble. Keep walking. As you reach out in kindness, you may be rebuffed. Keep being kind.

Consider this fascinating account of some of Thomas Edison’s unknown mistakes:

“One of the things that makes Edison stand out as an innovator was he was very good at reducing the risk of innovation—he’s not an inventor that depends on just one thing,” DeGraaf says. “He knows that if one idea or one product doesn’t do well he has others…that can make up for it.”

Chances are you haven’t heard of Edison’s botched ideas, several of which are highlighted here, because the Ohio native refused to dwell on them. DeGraaf says, “Edison’s not a guy that looks back. Even for his biggest failures he didn’t spend a lot of time wringing his hands and saying ‘Oh my God, we spent a fortune on that.’ He said, ‘we had fun spending it.’”
Read more: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/7-epic-fails-brought-to-you-by-the-genius-mind-of-thomas-edison-180947786/#I8co0DAKgoFZTybb.99

Keep stretching. Keep innovating. Keep reaching out. One attempt may not work, but you have thousands, maybe millions, in you.

You are braver than you know.

lion

In all the din, what is one voice more? Why bother speaking up? No one seems to listen to each other anymore anyway.

But inside you is a well spring, and you’re fueled by truth and an honest desire to help others. Your opinion matters.

Consider these words from Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Who are you to speak up?

You are a child of God. Let God’s light shine on a dark world through your words.

Today is a new day.

today

On days that seem dark and heavy, mired with concerns about the future, it is nice to remember that babies are being born, people are proposing, family members are coming home, and we are all here today.

Today, where we still have power to work toward better tomorrows.

 

Do not lose heart.

heroism

It feels like we have fought this battle before. Why won’t it go away? Why are we here again?

Perhaps it is as simple and complex as that there are epic forces of good and evil alive in the world. Evil, whether in the form or racism, misogyny, selfishness, and so on, keeps coming back, even when we think progress has been made. That is the nature of the world we live in.

The answer: to keep flooding the world with good, keep fighting the good fight.

Do not lose hope.

The joy of it all.

joy

Oh, to be a kid, before we’ve learned to wear masks and tamp down our emotions to keep from looking silly. We’ve mastered the art of staying calm when really we want to grab someone and spin them around in the air because we are so happy to see them, or to guffaw at a joke or funny thought, or to just break out in dance walking down the street.

We are so civilized.

But sometimes, maybe, it’s nice to be like this dog and just let someone know how you feel:

That’s wearing his heart on his sleeve, isn’t it? But life’s short; what’s the point of hiding our joy?