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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Time to Give Back

Once we know where our next meal is coming from, once we are not in fear of any danger, once we have various activities in our life to keep it interesting, once we have people to share experiences with, once all these foundational stones are in place, we find that we have created the ideal situation for joy, for happiness, and for blessing. So what comes next?  It's time to give.

Contributing to the world allows us to be conduates of the Spirit in the world. Generosity allows us to be part of the magic in someone else's life. Have you ever experiences a random act of kindness - I know I have... many times. Once during a particularly difficult week. A week when I was holding everything together with duct tape and spittle - one of my students surprised me with a crown of flowers. This was an 8th grade student! She and her mother had been up making flower crowns the previous night for one of her mother's horticulture classes and they decided that I needed one too. They did not know it was a rough week for me. They didn't know that that simple flower crown - which I wore ALL DAY LONG brought me such relief and blessing. Small random acts can mean everything....

But big acts are great too! What would our world be like without the many charities and the volunteers who serve selflessly to raise up their brothers and sisters in need. One of my favorite charities I have worked with is a little group in Keller, TX. Their goal is to make sure all students in Keller are able to graduate from school and none drop out from lack of stability - they focus on stabilizing the families and students of this little town. It was interesting volunteering at their food bank and at their resale shop. First of all, I met people from all kinds of churches and organizations who had a few hours here or there and could give their time. Next, I met the people we were serving. Folks who were just like me but were caught in the recession/depression suddenly overextended and jobless. Those were rough years - I would watch the "For Sale" sign in the back window of the BMWs drive away with the bags of food I made up because this family was filing bankrupcy. I didn't feel superior to them - I felt love, and I was glad I was in a position to give back.

My own future is currently murky. I graduate my 8th grade class this May, and they will all flutter off to various high schools in the city. What to do? There is no class for me to take at the school - and truth be told, I am in need of a teaching sabbatical. What will this look like? I am in the planning stages - but I can guareentee it will involve giving back, paying it forward, being grateful for all that I have and all that will come and spreading the message that abundance is the true nature of the universe. Wonder, awe and joy are ours for the taking if we stabilize our lives, add variety so we are not bored, make connections, and give with an open and generous heart....

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Connection - It is All About the Love

There is no way we can speak of living a happy life without speaking about love, friendship and connecting to other human beings.

Life will treat us roughly from time to time, but it is those whom we love and who love us that allow us to swim with the current of life's little and big tragedies. These are topics that poets write about, musicians create tunes for, and artists dedicate their lives to capturing and expressing.

Love - Connection - Friendship -  meeting another who reflects your own sense of self. Meeting one who meshes with those places in you that need partnering, whether it is someone who helps you unleash the wild and crazy side of you or the person who helps you settle down, is what we call joy in relationship and can create a loving community.

We all need these connections to remind ourselves that we are really all fragments of a whole. Soul mates search for each other encounter themselves - it is the same for friendmates. Friends and lovers are the people whom we call when we are sad and lonely, when we are soaring high filled with joy, and when we are everywhere in-between. Just today I received a phone call from a friend of mine who lives five states away. It was the middle of the day. She called because it is National Happiness Day, and she called me because our friendship makes her happy! This was such a wonderful gift. So, make some friends - they are good for you!

But how can we make good friends? Often friendships arise in school situations - you have class, you study together, you go to football games (at least if you live in Texas!), you tip some cows, you go dancing... etc. You travel in large groups that overlap other people's groups. You meet new people... you sometimes find your love. As adults, we often move and must find new friends, new social circles.  The above mentioned friend and I met 16 years ago at church. It took about a year for us to become friends.

Regular meetings involving shared experiences give relationships places to evolve and grow. Dinners, hiking, tours, working partnerships and study, dancing, watching movies, book groups etc. all create the oppurtunities to make more and more connections and to deepen relationships. Shared experiences is the name of the game. The same friend above and I have survived multiple moves - each time one of us moves, we visit each other's new home. We share experiences in each other's now hometowns. We keep connected to their lives.

Want more friends or deepen your current relationship networks - try having dinner once a week with someone different. Want more couple friends? Try couple dating  - have another couple over for dinner and or game night. Go on an old fashion double date - movie? putt putt? dancing? bowling? Want to maintain long distance relationships? Plan vacations that bring you together. I have a small group of friends who regularly travel from all over the United States to meet one weekend a year. We bonded over a teacher training during an intense three years. we love each other and look forward to each meeting. This last year we laughed and cried together. We shared our pains (two of us are in the middle of a rough year). We gave each other support, reminded each other how much we love each other AND how awesome we think each other is. We also gave advice - direction- light and wisdom. These weekends are empowering and uplifting.

When all is said and done, without friendship, without love, without being connected to others - life is boring. Make a date with a friend today! Please feel free to share some of your favorite activities to get connected with friends.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Variety is the Spice of Life!

Yes, yes.. I know… I just said last week that certainty and security were fundemental to your happiness in the world. This is true but not true all the time. We human beings are playful beings. We love to be up and doing, playing, getting into and out of trouble. We love to spice things up when we get bored. In short, we like variety.

There is nothing wrong with this! And in fact for some of us, having a life filled with variety is the most important ingredient for a happy and successful life. When life is too stable, we get bored and no longer feel we can grow.

Once in my classroom after a guest teacher had been teaching for a three week block, one of my students said she was surprised that there was another way a morning lesson could be and that she loved how she never knew what would happen in the morning lesson with the other teacher. The guest teacher was funny and taught in funny voices, made jokes and was generally unpredictable. For her this was perfect! For others in the class, it created discomfort at first but as trust grew, they grew to appreciate the diversity. For myself, teaching in the Waldorf style of staying with a class from grade to grade, always learning a new curriculum and never teaching the same lesson more then once, provided me with the needed variety in my work that fueled  my continued growth as a human being. If you are a teacher, how do you add a bit of surprise and wonder into your classes? What variety is available to augment the stability you must have in the classroom?

As a parent, planning little surprises for my daughter as she was growing up allowed her to feel loved and cared for. These positive surprises allowed her to develop a sense that the world is a loving and beautiful place -- even when it appears otherwise. Positive variety allowed her to grow and decide to follow her own path in life - to try different courses of study until she found the right one for her. Of course negative variety in the form of divorces, deaths, burglaries, and other life events that cause trauma also create variety. For some people who are not able to cultivate positive variety, they will draw almost magically to themselves crisis after crisis. This kind of variety in a family creates many more challenges that eventually need to be tackled by a professional.

In loving relationships, the conflict between variety and stablity can create tension for couples (with or without children). Couples early in their marriages (or dating) love how everything is new and mysterious. The undiscovered of the other person creates anticipation. What will the other say or do in this context or that?  This variety fuels relationships for the first few years. But when we get familiar with all those beautiful surprises, we grow bored... remember what happens when we are bored? WE no longer grow.. and as they say if you are not growing, you are dying. So, the relationship dies a little everyday for lack of variety.

This happened to me. After 21 years, I was too predictable and steady. And he was too predictably as well. We knew each other backwards and forwards. So, someone had to do something. And he did.  Our divorce certainly added variety for both of us! But more importantly, it made me mindful when he said to me, " I just want a little mystery."

So how in your long term loving relationships can you and your partner create healthy variety that enables you to grow?

My best friends tackled just this question 20+ years ago. They have no children  - children are great sources of variety in a relationship! They decided to make a effort early-on to grow together by pursuing interests together. They take classes, explore new places, take up new hobbies, and have been able to thrive inbetween moves for school and jobs, crazy work schedules, and the dreaded midlife time of life. Some of these pursuits they truly both love, and some is one person or another's passion. But the inspiring thing about their focus on their loving relationship is how much exploration they have taken up. Ballroom dancing, hiking, kayaking, fantasy football, wine collecting, pottery, photography, art collecting, travel of all kinds, bourdon tours (neither really drinks very much!) working out, bread making, healthy eating, herb gardening, and on and on it goes. I am always intrigued to hear about the new hobby, class, passion they are exploring and whose interest it is. Currently, bird watching is high on their lists. Pick something to feed yourselves with - pick anything, there is no wrong or right!

Variety - create beautiful healthy variety that will allow yourself, your children and your loving relationships to grow and flourish.