What difference can you make?

streetsweeper

Are you making a difference in other people’s lives? Sometimes we feel that our lives, jobs, gifts, opportunities are too small to make a big difference. But consider the amazing difference made by this school bus driver who crocheted a personalized toy for each of her kids.

We all can make a difference. We don’t need tons of money or an impressive job or skill.

We just need caring hearts.

The complicated mirror.

reflection

Who really bugs you? Like get-under-your-skin and keep-you-up-at-night bugs you? There’s a reason, perhaps, and it’s not pretty.

In this insightful article, “I Am the Reason My Husband Infuriates Me”, Christine Carter tackles an annoying problem–projection:

We project, psychologically speaking, when we unconsciously and unknowingly attribute our judgments about ourselves to other people.

See, the thing that drives me most crazy about myself is that I often make big elaborate behavioral plans and then I don’t follow through on them. For example, I’ve recently stopped meditating (again) after making a plan to meditate more over the summer. The perfectionist in me has been a mess of guilt and anxiety over this, something I didn’t consciously realize until I found myself dressing Mark down for not following through on our picky eater protocol.

We humans have blind spots. It is often hard for us to see our own failings, but it can be very easy for us to see what’s wrong with other people. The people around us, particularly our spouses, are like mirrors. We see clearly what we don’t like, but we get it backwards.

It’s not them, it’s us.

Martha Beck cleverly calls this charming human propensity “You spot it, you got it.”

But there is good news. If we stop and realize we are projecting, we can take our own advice–you know, the advice you spontaneously give that annoying person:

That doesn’t mean that we are always projecting when we see other people’s flaws, or when we see the ways that others can learn and improve. But when we feel particularly emotional about a situation? When we feel hooked and irrational or harshly judgmental about someone else’s shortcomings, rather than empathetic or compassionate? We are probably projecting.

Projection is an undeniable human tendency, and I think it is pretty wonderful, actually, because it allows us to see ourselves more clearly, to better understand what is causing us anxiety and stress.

The greatest thing about projection, to me, is that it comes with a set of instructions for our own growth and happiness. We’ll usually do well to do whatever it is we wish otherpeople would do (or stop doing).

So if you catch yourself unusually wound up and emotional about something, pause, and take a good look in the mirror. Is it possible that the infuriating behavior is something you do, too?

 

Err on the side of love.

errlove

We tend to judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions. What that looks like in practice is forgiving ourselves for a lot of things–selfishness, neglect, mistakes–that we don’t forgive anyone else for when the same harm is done to us.

But what if we flipped that and gave other people the benefit of the doubt and show them the same understanding we give ourselves? What if their statements that seem hurtful are merely ill thought out? What if  what feels like neglect is really just busyness with something else? What if everyone is intending to do their best, but falls short over and over?

Just like we do.

Instead of anger, hurt, and frustration, our relationships would be peppered with compassion and understanding and the ability to grow and blossom.

Quiet.

shout

What are the fine things you long to say?

The things we scream at each other–accusations, threats, boasts, hate– are those ever the fine things in your heart?

Maybe it’s time to tone down the rhetoric, quiet our voices, and listen to each other.

Dance. Now.

stilldancing

Have you ever been to a ghost town? You see the saloon and can picture it with card games going on and drinks being slid down the bar to thirsty patrons. The hoofbeats of horses maybe bringing strangers into town, the scurry to safety if a gunfight breaks out, breaking glass, swishing skirts, laughter and tears. Lives lived and lost all as rich and complicated, full of joy and strife, as your own. And those people who once lived there, chugging their whiskey and loading their pistols— Read More

Finding home.

lights

Are you broken? Lost?

Lights will guide you home.

Consider the story of The Tenth Goose told by Richard R. Powell in his book Wabi Sabi for Writers:

Nine Canada geese lift off a clear mountain lake; droplets from their wings cast lines of rings behind them on the glassy surface as they rise. Light gray feathers reflect amber light from the early morning sun, a clean glow off each curved body. You watch their broad wings grip air, watch nine bodies rise and fall in rhythm against the dark forest behind them. Each bird’s neck kinks in counter-time to its wing beats so that all nine heads remain level and each set of eyes gazes steadily out at the cool dawn, bright mystery of sight amid the shiny black head feathers. Closer now, you make out the expressionless curve of their beaks, see one goose’s thin moist tongue as she honks; hear the whistle of air across wing feathers as they pass over your head. Then you notice that there is a tenth goose far back, low to the water, working hard to catch up, honking softly, as if each wing beat hurts. This goose loses a feather as she passes close over you and you watch the feather spiral and glide to the ground. You pick it up and it looks perfect, each barbule lying neatly against its neighbor, the tiny whorl of fluff near the calamus soft to the touch. Then you see that the shaft is not perfect; it is cracked open from the middle to the tip.

You keep that feather, tuck it under the strap around your car’s sun visor, look at it every day you drive to work and remember the tenth goose. Remember your own efforts to keep up. And somehow, that tenth goose gives you courage. You wonder if she will find enough food or if winter will separate her from the rest, separate her from life. She speaks to you in a dream one night. In the distracted moments of the day she speaks to you, in the elevator or while you wait in traffic. Then one night she is there in your dream again, as silent as her feather in your car. She tips her head at you and that beak, with its lumpy prominence like a Roman nose, bobs up and down and you realize she is giving you permission to speak. In the dream you speak and she turns her head to hear you and you tell her your fear of dying and your hopes while living and she comes and rattles her beak between your fingers.

There is beauty and strength in the broken places, a beauty that continues on even when everything is a struggle, that faces setbacks with determination. Sometimes we are one of the nine geese, sure and strong, in sync, but sometimes we are the tenth goose struggling to keep up. And there is beauty in that, too:

It is a kind of beauty on the edge of defeat, a beauty tenacious and brave, and it is the beauty left behind when the warm, honking goose is gone. And not just flown away–but dead and gone. That feather remains as a testament to the beauty in living; and even when the feather dries and cracks and is eventually eaten by insects or the drab extension of time, it will live on in the imaginations of those who hear the story of the tenth goose.

Remember the Story of the Tenth Goose and take heart.

And, for a treat, here is Coldplay.

 

Loving the unloveable.

morelove

Who are the people you know who are just, frankly, hard to love? Maybe they’re irascible or mean; maybe they push people away; maybe they are flat out obnoxious. Who are those people? Is there a way for you to love them? Perhaps show them compassion or tenderness? Sometimes the people who least deserve love are the very ones who need it the most.

Sow love.

sowlove

How do we bring peace to a contentious world? Perhaps the only way is to meet hate with love, anger with forgiveness, strife with peace. Please take a minute to enjoy these children singing Make Me a Channel of Your Peace:

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord.
And where there is doubt true faith in You.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is despair in life let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness only light.
And where there’s sadness ever joy.

Oh, Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in giving to all man that we receive,
And in dying that we are born to eternal life.

 

Thank an animal.

snoozepup

Those of us with pets know how close the bond between animal and human can be. You look deep into the eyes of a cat or dog and see another soul, one who greets you, perhaps, with unrestrained love and affection. We think of ourselves as caring for our pets and sometimes forget how deeply they care for us in return. The bond between animal and human can be transcendent. And, beyond dogs and cats, is that close bond possible?

In this remarkable video, consider Blue, the pot-bellied therapy pig who cheers up seniors in assisted living:

It is not unusual to see 2 year old Blue in the hallways cheering up people a few times a month….

[Blue’s certification as a therapy pig] has been rewarding for both pig and people. The potbelly helps residents “get out of their element” and forget about pain or depression they may be experiencing, says Nu Vista Living Facility lifestyle director Pamela Collins.

“It’s amazing how much Blue is drawn to the people at the nursing home, it is as if she just knows that they need her,” said Zamora-Duran.

Life on Earth is complex, and the possibilities for connection nearly limitless. Isn’t it remarkable that we all–humans and animals–can connect as we share this planet?

Try a little tenderness.

tenderness

In a surprise TED talk, Pope Francis put in a request for more tenderness in our lives. He stressed that we are all connected:

First and foremost, I would love it if this meeting could help to remind us that we all need each other,none of us is an island, an autonomous and independent “I,” separated from the other, and we can only build the future by standing together, including everyone. We don’t think about it often, but everything is connected, and we need to restore our connections to a healthy state. Even the harsh judgment I hold in my heart against my brother or my sister, the open wound that was never cured, the offense that was never forgiven, the rancor that is only going to hurt me, are all instances of a fight that I carry within me, a flare deep in my heart that needs to be extinguished before it goes up in flames, leaving only ashes behind.

Many of us, nowadays, seem to believe that a happy future is something impossible to achieve. While such concerns must be taken very seriously, they are not invincible. They can be overcome when we don’t lock our door to the outside world. Happiness can only be discovered as a gift of harmony between the whole and each single component. Even science – and you know it better than I do – points to an understanding of reality as a place where every element connects and interacts with everything else.

The Pope suggested tenderness for bridging the divides that separate us:

And what is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future.To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need….

Yes, tenderness is the path of choice for the strongest, most courageous men and women. Tenderness is not weakness; it is fortitude. It is the path of solidarity, the path of humility. Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. 

The future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies.Yes, they do hold an enormous responsibility. But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those peoplewho recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other. And so, please, think of me as well with tenderness, so that I can fulfill the task I have been given for the good of the other, of each and every one, of all of you, of all of us. Thank you.

The future is in our hands. Can we think of and treat each other with tenderness? Do we recognize that we are all part of an “us”?

Try a little tenderness.