Until Then, Smile!

Viktor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning wrote,

“Everyone has their own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment.  Therein, he cannot be replaced nor can his life be repeated.  Thus, everyone’s task is unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it.”

I was thinking about this as I reflected on a conversation I had with a young man whom I had noticed  coming into the Starbucks store that I frequent. He was always super engaged with everyone, especially the great baristas, and he was forever positive and smiling.  After witnessing this over a period of weeks, I decided to join him at the counter, introduce myself and acknowledge his very special spirit.  His name is Andre and In the course of the conversation, he told me that he’s like this every day, all day and then, this:

“Why not smile? There will always be bills to pay and not enough money but why not smile?  There will come a time when we sleep–until then, smile.”

It occurs to me that Frankl and Andre are both describing what it is to go All-In, in life.  Life that is uniquely and gloriously generous.  Your life.  My life.  OUR lives, invested in our work, families and friends; playing, resting and attending all the while.

At any given moment, there are a thousand things bombarding this life we live and I confess to sometimes losing sight of the thing that is right in front of me, gently asking for my attention.  There are methods that I can employ to see–Notice–more fully but instead of getting all prescriptive about that here, let’s opt, in this moment, for forgiveness of our inevitable lapses.  Of course, we will strive, stumble and struggle to get it right and “until then, smile!”

All God’s

Sometimes, noticing takes the form of giving one’s subconscious a little breathing room.  It happened for me last night, seconds after turning out the light by my bed.  The “light” came on, I reached for a pen and journal and wrote words that flowed as naturally as sap from a Vermont Sugar Maple.

I love you

Hopeless,

Helpless,

Healthless.

 

I love you

Wealthful,

Healthful,

Generous.

 

I love you

Peacemaker,

Heart filler,

Love spiller.

 

I love you

Believer,

Doubter,

Sure-seeker.

 

I love you.

Come.

F-5

May 20, 2013

The first I knew that something horrible had happened came from friends on Facebook.  “Praying for the people in Oklahoma.”  Shortly thereafter, “We are Okay but friends and co-workers have lost homes.”  Then another and another.  I turned on CNN and learned that a terrible, powerful, monster of a tornado had struck Moore, Oklahoma.  It isn’t their first and we will learn soon if it is the worst.  An F-5.

This is personal.  This is home.  My Wife grew up only a few miles South of Moore in Norman.  I know this region because it’s where I was lovingly accepted into a family that became my family.  Some of them live there still:  My Brother-in Law, his wife and their three children.

I tried to call them.  “Your call cannot be completed at this time.”  I tried again, thinking that I’d get lucky.  I would not.  I heard the same message. That’s when they snuck up on me:  old emotions, tucked safely beneath plenty of layers of love, hope and great life and yet ready to surface, I learned, at exactly such a moment as this.  Just a machine-spoken message but one that I had heard years earlier when trying to call my parents in Texas from Oklahoma City after receiving reports of a terrible storm—an F5— that had torn through my hometown.  Technology then wasn’t like it is today.  No cell phones, internet, instant messaging or 24-hour news cycle.

“Your call cannot be completed…” Helpless. So, tonight, I shed new tears out of old wounds.  I relived an experience of 34 years ago.  The only option then was to drive 150 miles south with no means of learning the fate of my parents and sister until I turned onto their street and parked.

Tonight, as in 1979, too many people died.  Tonight, as in 1979, my family is safe.  And I cry.  Again.

Prune and Park

Idea #3: There’s a lot about life that is beautiful: nature; people; architecture; work; play.  Regaining control isn’t about excluding things.  It’s more about being conscious and intentional about how much beauty we can enjoy at any one time.  Marigolds are beautiful and they provide a wonderful accent to landscapes.  Left untended, however, they’ll take over!  Just like the necessity of periodically pruning marigolds back, for me to effectively manage my busy-ness, I have to make sure my commitments don’t cause me to overextend and, thus, take over my life.  So, keep your life’s landscape beautiful by pruning the activity vines regularly.

Idea #’s 4&5: Everyone I know wants to find the closest parking place and get in the shortest line.  This isn’t a “Type-A” phenomenon.  It’s human nature.  I offer these ideas, though, especially for the Type-A’s amongst us. Park farther away and get in the longest checkout line.  Doing these two things consistently is guaranteed to improve the quality of your life and actually save time.  Your life is better because you’ve just eliminated two of the sources of DAILY frustration.  When you park farther away, there are many more choices, making parking easier and faster. As an added bonus, you’ll get a little more exercise and avoid the competition for that ‘perfect’ spot!

When you get in the longest checkout line with the expectation that it will take longer to get through, you won’t be obsessing over that person who is actually writing a check (!?) for the purchase!   Adopting these practices will slow you down, metaphorically, but will not actually delay you by more than 1 minute and 25 seconds per event (I made that up but I’ll bet I’m not too far off!)

Three more ideas for regaining control:

  • Prune the activity vine
  • Park farther away
  • Get in the longest Line

Let me know how these work for you, OK?

Noticing–An Exercise

As we plunge headlong into the holidays, what better to think about than exercise! Over the course of the next two months we’ll be presented with non-stop opportunities to indulge our feasting fantasies while, at the same time, face the challenge of moving our bodies enough to burn of the added calories. What does this have to do with being intentional about Noticing?  Nothing, really…or everything!

It seems to me that by Noticing more, beginning with acknowledging the obvious opportunities that we have to immerse ourselves in holiday celebration, thanksgiving and reflection, we can enjoy everything about this beautiful season, including the food!  By being more intentional about noticing the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of the holidays, we don’t have to make it a ‘one-trick pony’ of over indulging in any one thing.  So, I’m offering a suggestion–an exercise in noticing–that may help now and in all that you do after you achieve your goal of (fill in the blank) during the holidays.  This isn’t a physical exercise like going to the gym or jogging through the park. In fact, it’s an exercise that begins with stopping.  That’s not so bad, is it?

Recently, Cathy and I have been shopping at antique stores, second-hand shops and vintage/retro outlets.  If you’ve ever been to these places, you know that they are rich in variety and usually packed with lots of stuff.  You also probably know that the sheer magnitude and diversity of choices can be overwhelming.   I am usually just looking for something specific like a new-to-me pair of cufflinks.  Cufflinks are small.  Usually, they are in locked cases that can be just about anywhere in a store.   In my ‘hunter’ mode, I enter, scope out the layout of the place and zero-in on likely destinations for said cufflinks.  In the process, I miss virtually everything else in the store.  I’m practicing the art of reduction, excluding everything around me in order to see one thing.  It’s only by accident that I notice other items that may be of interest and value.

That process of exclusive observation is one that I believe is practiced far too frequently by way too many of us—men and women, alike.  At work, we focus on the complaining employee, the dirty corner, the one wall that has a mark on it to the exclusion of all that is working well and looking good.  At home, we pay attention to the kids playing their video games, the crying child, the dirty dishes, and the unmade bed to the exclusion of the smiles, banter, comfort and love that pervades everything before us.  Here’s an exercise that will help you get out of the ‘reduction’ process and into what Winifred Gallagher in Rapt refers to as Top-Down attention.  As you’d guess by now, the exercise begins with Stopping and it works wherever you want to practice it.  The technique doesn’t require a lot of additional time but promises to change your perspective instantly!

The Three Minute Noticing Exercise:

  1. Stop–1-3 minutes, tops
  2. Observe–Without turning your body, employ all of your senses to take in what is before you.  Do a count:  1, 2, 3, etc and with each number in the sequence, shift your eyes to something different and focus there for 3-5 seconds.  Count  to 11,shifting to a new object with each count.  Continue counting: 12, 13, 14, etc but now notice objects illuminated by natural light or in shadow.  How is the light adding dimension to the object or the people you see?  Remember, you’re staying still, turning your head and adjusting where you’re looking with your eyes.  Continue counting to 19 but now, pay attention to colors and, possibly sounds. When you reach a count of 27, stop.
  3. Notice–What did you see?  This isn’t about memorizing every object or listing the specific things you saw. Rather, it’s about what your expanded vision of the space enabled you to appreciate.
  4. Record what you Noticed–I recommend recording what you saw and noticed in a little notebook or something else permanent.

At first, were you overwhelmed by the thought of noticing so much in one place and from only one perspective?   From a top-down perspective, is what you saw pleasant? Interesting? Alarming? Fun? Encouraging?  Is there action that you might want to take as a result of noticing so much in such a small space and timeframe?  Thank an employee; congratulate the kids for their good behavior; Hug your spouse for making this space so warm and inviting; buy something–other than cufflinks?!

This exercise doesn’t take long and it’s guaranteed to encourage you.  Expand your observations by asking, ‘what will someone else notice if they are viewing the exact same space as you but from a different vantage point?’ When I ask this additional question, I’m reminded that my view, while valid and important, isn’t really complete if I don’t get input from others.  In all cases, Noticing is hugely important and this exercise will help you see into a world filled with opportunities to celebrate, improve, serve, worship and lead more joyously.

Try it right now.  It really doesn’t matter where you are.  I’m in a Starbucks and I just did it. You can be in a conference room, living room, office, mall or forest.  It doesn’t matter. Just stop, count and notice. Make some notes. As the Southwest Airlines ad says, “You are now free to roam the about the planet”, having been enriched just a little by Noticing the space right in front of you.

‘Chance’ Meeting

Talk about Noticing!  Only my Wife can go to wash her car (the old fashioned way!) and have a deeply meaningful conversation with someone who until that moment was a total stranger.  Here is her account of yesterday’s ‘chance’ encounter:

I frequently wonder about those daily encounters we have with people and how they might affect our lives in the future.  It seems God is always at work, and it is what we do with what he puts in front of us that makes us who we are.  There was a lady drying her Suburban as I pulled into the bay to dry the VW.  I said “you’ve got that looking really good…I’ve had Suburbans and they are great vehicles”..here began a chance meeting, and then wondering where (if anywhere) it might lead.  We were discussing the attributes of the Suburban (i.e. hauling various finds) when she explained that she uses her Suburban to haul furniture. She is an artist and through the downturn of the economy, she has had difficulty selling her canvas paintings.  She explain though that she woke up at 3am one morning to realize that she could put her paintings on furniture. Meet Cindi.  She shared with me that she had been a victim of domestic violence and how at 42 she is finally seeing that she is a person with talents and abilities.  Having been married at 18 and her divorce sounding recent, her abusive relationship had left her with very little in the way of self esteem.  Today, I found a woman excited about her life and where it was heading, and by sharing a little of her story she was more empowered and that empowerment is contagious.  She also shared that she was learning as she meets people and tell them what she’s doing, wonderful things happen; like the lady she met at the laundromat who is giving her some furniture to paint.  As she drove off, she waved out her window and wished me well, I did likewise.  People touch our lives, and we touch there’s and sometimes we never realize it.  I had asked for a card and she gave me two.  Her furniture business is call New Life Furniture Art.  Hmmm.  New Life multiple meanings.  Nice to meet you Cindi.  Hope our paths cross again.

Thank you, Cathy. After 32 years, you continue to amaze and inspire me!

On Optimism

Matt Ridley, author of the best-selling book The Rational Optimist, had his work summarized by the Reader’s Digest on March 21, 2012, and updated on Saturday, April 14, 2012, in an article titled “17 Reasons To Be Cheerful.” Here is his reason No. 17 that stated “optimists are right:

For 200 years, pessimists have had all the headlines — even though optimists have far more often been right. There is immense vested interest in pessimism. No charity ever raised money by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page writing a story about how disaster was now less likely. Pressure groups and their customers in the media search even the most cheerful statistics for glimmers of doom. Don’t be browbeaten — dare to be an optimist!

I know that I’m not as optimistic about things as I was when I was younger.  Today, I use words like ‘realistic’ and ‘pragmatic’ more than I ever used to.  However, not too far beneath the surface so as to be completely lost, I still look at folks and think they mean well and do good.  I am intentional about noticing the nice things that people do and the very good things that happen in our world.  To do this requires Stopping, though.  I have stopped watching Cable TV with its non-stop negative news.  I have stopped following politics closely because politics is the farthest thing from anything approximating reality.  I have stopped looking at the homeless as ‘losers,’ which they most certainly are not.  In fact, on that last item, I have gone way outside my personal comfort zone and sat with folks on the street to engage them in conversation.  It’s my way of bringing this concept of ‘Noticing‘ to reality.

So, to be an optimist requires a few changes–most of them pretty easy to implement.  Stop.  Notice.  And, for the record, I believe in you, your service to others, your love of family, country and God.  I just do.  No apologies from this optimist!

Sense of Wonder

The title of Rachel Carson’s classic work, The Sense of Wonder, made me think, what if we approached our life’s work not with the anticipation of challenges, deadlines, profit, and problems but rather with WONDER?  Perhaps, like Carson, we would begin our day’s journey of service to others as a walk through a vibrant forest full of sights and sounds that evoke awe and a sense of wonder!  It’s not so hard to be inspired by the wonders that surround us in nature.  Visualizing a serene body of water, perhaps a slow moving stream, we don’t think of the volume of water, erosion or floods.  Rather, we hear the musical tones of its flow and delight in the deposits of cool spray on our faces.  In a word, it’s wonder–ful! (Click ‘Tonto Stream’ under Blogroll)

Patients in hospitals are not ‘admissions,’ ‘visits’ or ‘frequent flyers’ but rather ‘souls’ with stories to tell.  And if we, whom they have entrusted their whole self to, approach with wonder, how much more likely is it that healing–their’s and ours–will happen?

There are many lists of things to do to improve the patient’s perception of care (perceived but not necessarily real).  In my vision for the future, we will approach souls with the sense of wonder reserved for the highest form of God’s creation.  And we will step into these precious lives, walk alongside them quietly and create the opportunity of healing!

“The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for the scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.”

–Rachel Carson

The Sense of Wonder

Is that a mountain stream that I hear in the distance?