This question is not about your grocery list or your “TO DO” list. It is a list about you. It may be a list you have yet to make.
Let’s back up a little and first learn about Ruth’s story. She and her parents were in a concentration camp in Germany near the end of World War II. They suffered severe hardship until they were freed by the Allies in 1945. They were poor; they had no savings; they had no home. They had lost all contact with their relatives. Somehow Ruth’s parents found work and received help from different groups.
After they had recovered physically, mentally, and emotionally to some degree, the family made their way to the U.S. and settled in New York City. They worked hard and saved enough money to open a clothing store and a few years later, a clothing factory. Ruth worked long hours beside her parents, but she was grateful. She was safe and free to live her life.
On a recent hike in the mountains, I saw with great pleasure the abundance of wild flowers, blossoming trees and plants. Some were tall, some short, some were colorful, and some were many shades of green.
Nature has an infinite capacity to create and restore. Each plant has a unique niche in the greater ecosystem, and each has its own purpose in order to maintain the balance of life. We human beings have much to learn from nature.
We are each the same as all other human beings physically, mentally, and emotionally. We are the dust of creation. We share DNA with everyone else. We have the same body organs, arms, legs, ears, and toes. As human beings, we even share 42 common viruses in our bloodstreams.
One cold night in January, I was driving home and listening to the last part of a radio interview of a mother and her son. The mother has muscular dystrophy, which is a degenerative disease of the voluntary muscles that control movement in the body. She talked about making “choices” in life. She said that everything we do or don’t do is a “choice” and has a consequence.
This mother is in physical pain much of her day. She makes a conscious choice every morning to get up, to make a cup of coffee, and to go through her day in physical pain. She said she is very aware of each choice she makes. Her muscular dystrophy is slowly worsening, but she appreciates all the medical help and medications she receives.
Her eleven-year-old son, who was born with muscular dystrophy, was also interviewed. His health and ability to live is more precarious. He struggled to breathe and talk during the interview. He had two siblings who were also born with muscular dystrophy, and they had died. The doctors told his mother that he would not make it past one year. He did. They then predicted he would die by age two. He didn’t. The doctors are amazed he has made it to age eleven.
Here we are already making plans for the upcoming holidays, especially Christmas. Some of us have already stashed presents away, and some of us will be last minute shoppers. The spirit and joy of the holidays is infectious, and we all want to be a part of it one way or another.
One of the main themes at this time of year is giving gifts to friends, family, and others. Some of us worry about finding the “right” gift for each person on our list. Will it be a good color or the right size? Will it be “enough” for a certain person? If it is not well received or valued, what should I do? How can I afford all of the gifts on my list?
These kinds of questions and concerns create tension, worry, and frustration inside of us. We seem to have lost the real value of giving. Maybe these two stories will help us remember the essence of gift giving in the days ahead.
Here we are at the beginning of a new year. In our culture it is customary to reflect on the past year and set some goals and priorities for the coming year. We are leaving a year that was filled with excess and inundation—political commercials spending excessive amounts of money. We are inundated with all the pressure to buy things over the holidays, with the emphasis on “things,” not relationships. We are bombarded with excessive amounts of information in the media, on our computers and cell phones. Endless kinds of entertainment are available day and night. Many of us are distracted, mesmerized, overwhelmed, even addicted, to looking at the little and big screens in our world of technology. More and more of us, adults and teenagers, look like cell-phone zombies as we walk down the street totally focused on their gadget. Some of these individuals trip and fall; some forget where they are; some get hit by cars!
It’s interesting to note that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both very restrictive about the use of technology for their children and teens. There are recent reports from veterinarians that our domestic animals are suffering from depression because their owners are not paying attention to them. Another factor to examine is the high rate of suicide in the US, and especially in Montana.
Somewhere deep, very deep inside us is a need for safety in our lives. Perhaps it is in our DNA from living thousands of years on planet Earth. We believe that our safety is determined by our family and our “tribe.” Our ancestors survived trusting that membership in the tribe would help to keep them safe from harm, from attack, from hunger, and so much more—and it often did.
Strangers were suspect. They might be enemies, invaders, or potential conquerors capable of causing the death and destruction of our loved ones. The strangers might have looked different. Maybe they spoke a foreign language, dressed strangely, or had different values. In essence, the thinking was: if you don’t look like me, or talk like me, or believe as I do, then you are my enemy.
Let’s look at how much our inner emotional world colors our perceptions and our relationships in the outer world. Several years ago, I attended a workshop and the instructor placed a large amethyst quartz crystal in the center of our small circle. Our task was to connect with the crystal and share a few words about what we experienced. I was surprised at the diversity of what people saw, sensed, and felt. The crystal evoked different emotions, different qualities, and different memories and images for others.
In sum, the exercise helped me to appreciate how our perceptions and our relationships to the “outer” landscape are determined by our “inner” landscape. Our inner landscape holds our emotional history, good and bad memories, our cultural and religious beliefs and so much more. Each one of us has his or her own unique inner landscape beginning at birth. Here’s another example…
Several women were part of a yoga class. They had taken lessons together for five years. Their yoga teacher, Emily, an older woman, was about to retire after twenty years. They were going to miss her. She was kind and accepting of what you could and could not do with your body. Every student felt valued, and in turn, they valued her and would miss her. Often the women would meet at the nearby coffee shop after yoga. They decided to have a party for Emily and give her a parting gift.
Mary was experienced in sewing and quilting, so she suggested making a quilt. Everyone agreed this was a great idea. Each woman was assigned a square on the quilt. Each was encouraged to choose a color, pattern, or decoration that would reflect her essence. Mary agreed to be in charge of making the quilt.