The Truth I Live By

I shared this piece written by my younger brother on this blog in May of 2014. He wrote it before he died of cancer at the age of 39. This seems like a good time to share it again.

The Truth I Live By

(William John Smith 1953-1992)

 Everything makes sense. This can be paraphrased many different ways, although many attempts are less accurate. One of Voltaire’s characters stated, “All is for the best, in the best of all possible worlds.” This is unnecessarily optimistic. My phrasing doesn’t imply that everything that happens to us is good either in the short or the long term. Everyone experiences moments or long periods of unpleasantness. One can hope that over the long period of a lifetime these sad times may not add up to much overall, but most persons with a little thought can think of individuals whom “fate has treated unkindly,” i.e. who have received more than their share of agonies. I think this is one of the hardest things for you, C., that what has happened is just not fair. I’m not sure how long ago I came to believe (or realize) that fairness isn’t the issue. There is nothing fair about life, either in distribution of rewards or unhappiness. And what’s to say that it should be fair. If each of us had an opportunity to create a world, then maybe that’s an attribute that we would build in. But this world is not of our making, and all of the mental checklists that we might make comparing who’s gotten more breaks than we have, etc., will never change the fact that we have to make the best of what we’ve got, not despair over what we perceive as inequities. So life isn’t fair. How do we cope with that? One way might be to remind ourselves that no matter how bad things seem to be at any one time, a little time spent flipping around the TV channel or reading a news magazine will serve as a reminder that we should be embarrassed to be heard complaining about the vast majority of things that concern us. I don’t doubt for a second that I have lived a very privileged existence compared to 90% of the world’s people.

I’m not sure that that is the best way to approach a new tragedy, though (i.e., making ourselves feel better by thinking of others doing worse). I would appreciate a more optimistic approach. The best way to greet each unpleasant event is to grab it by the throat and make the best of it. C. and I have both had our share of suffering, almost all of it, I’m happy to say proceeding our first date. There is no doubt that led to a degree of maturity that made our time together (pre-diagnosis and post-diagnosis) much more meaningful than the lives of those growing up “with the silver spoons.”

Is cancer unfair? Is it fair that we should expect billions of cells in our body to reproduce over and over again, over an entire lifetime, and always get it right? Doesn’t it make more sense to recognize the initial miracle of our birth, the magnificence of our growth into feeling, loving, praising adults, the privilege of experiencing enough of life that we can despair over not having the time to spend longer doing the same? One of the things I am most grateful for is that many, many years ago I learned to be grateful for what I’ve been given. I didn’t, as occurs with many, only get shocked into this realization by a terminal tragedy. This type of appreciation often does begin in the midst of despair, and for that reason I am actually glad that I had enough hard times as a young man, to allow me to think hard about what things are and are not important. Accordingly, for the past 15 or 20 years, I’ve been able to ignore aspects of 20 th century American living that are of no consequence to me (parties, cars, frivolous chatter, clubs, etc.) and concentrate on things that touch me personally. I am forever grateful for what it was that dropped the blinders from my eyes so many years ago.

I am very sad that people seem to see so little of the world around them. I can’t walk outside without seeing the beauty of our created world, from the rainbow in a line of earthworm slime, to another visible ring on Jupiter. We have been given this magnificent world to study and enjoy in limitless detail at any level, microscopic to cosmic. Even though I have enough things to interest me another 10 lifetimes, I must take solace in knowing that, at least compared to others, I’ve had much more than my share even in half a life time..

I am blessed to have had a brother who could embody these attitudes.  I hope those of you who read this find his words meaningful in your lives as well.

Nimo Patel: Beautiful

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may remember that I am a big fan of Nimo Patel from Empty Hands Music. Nimo has recently offered another music video to the world. This one is called Beautiful. The email message from Empty Hands Music introducing the new video stated:

We have officially released our latest music video called “Beautiful“, a song and video sharing a message of letting go of our technology once in a while, to see the beauty that is constantly surrounding us. If you enjoy it, do share with your friends and family.

The introduction on the YouTube page gave even more information:

Ellie Walton and Nimo release another Empty Hands Music Video, this time featuring Nimo in collaboration with soul singer Jason Joseph. The message of the song is simple: that beauty exists every where we go. We just have to open our hearts and eyes, to actually see it moment to moment.

You can download the album that contains these songs and more- for free- at the Empty Hands site but I decided to put the links to some of my previous Nimo posts below. The first one includes introductory information as well as one of the songs he sang when I first heard him sing.

Introduction and Planting Seeds

Ode to Women

Grateful: A Love Song to the World

Keep Loving

Being Kind

Enjoy!

 

Shocking Revelation

I am still reeling from some information I received today. It just occurred to me to look and see if today’s Daily Prompt would fit for this situation.  Revelation is perfect!

For the last month, I’ve been looking forward to taking a Plant Identification course that was offered to Forest Stewards and other volunteers who work in Seattle’s reforestation projects. When I arrived at the class today, I discovered most of the students had been Forest Stewards for a long time and the others had at least some experience in plant identification. I, on the other hand, only know a few of these native plants.

Last month, Ananya and I had to choose the trees, shrubs and ground covers that we will be planting in our group’s Greenbelt site the end of October. We ordered nearly 400 plants. In the course of today’s class, I learned that those plants will be delivered to us unmarked. Not only that, most will be in their winter state so we may have only a twig to use for identification.

WWWWWWHHHHHHAAAAAAATTTTTTTT?

The need for me to learn to identify our plants has certainly taken on a new intensity. As I sat down to write this post, though, a couple of other thoughts came to my mind. When we ordered the plants, we had to order in quantities of 10. We ordered 10 for some varieties and 20 for others. So even though we will have to identify 400 plants, there will only be 26 different types. That seems doable.  Also, sometime prior to October we will have the opportunity to take a Winter Twig class. I will make taking that class a priority.

I am sure glad that I learned this information today, rather than discovering it when the plants are delivered. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. I can do it. Yes I can. Yes I can. Yes I can. Yes I can. And I don’t have to do it alone! Ananya and I will do it together and if we need help we will get it.

A Treasure for Me

I laughed when I saw that today’s Daily Prompt is Chuckles. I also thought of the old saying “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” That is exactly how I feel about dandelions this time of year.

Two days ago, I saw this strip of dandelions near my home. It was at least 50 feet long and maybe more. Throughout the winter, I have been going to the grocery store to pick up lettuce that is going to be discarded. I feed it to the worms in my vermicomposting bins. The worms seem to be losing their enthusiasm for the lettuce, but they love the fresh dandelion greens.

The problem with the dandelions in this field is that it is part of light rail property and is completely fenced in. I have no way to access it, so I have to be satisfied with using the dandelions in my yard and the few that are on the street side of the fence.

Even though I know that it is important for me to focus on what I have, rather than what I don’t have, I have no doubt that I will still look longingly at the treasure that is beyond my grasp whenever I pass this field.

Daily Prompt: Squat

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Photo Credit: Wikimedia

I laughed when I saw that the Daily Prompt for today was “Squat.” My laughter was because it reminded me of something that happened in the 90’s.

First I will give some back story. When I first started going to Amma’s Amritapuri, India ashram in January of 1990, all of the toilets were squat toilets. I found them uncomfortable to use. My balance was shaky and as far as I was concerned they were just plain weird. Over the years, I became more used to them but I still didn’t like them, and I internally grumbled about them a lot.

Eventually, I became irritated by my own negativity. By then I had learned Byron Katie’s process for addressing negative judgments. At one point in her process you create “turnarounds” for a negative judgment and then examine the turnarounds to see if there is any truth in them. For example, if my belief is “Susan is angry with me”, the turnarounds would be “I am angry with me” or “I am angry with Susan.” The belief “My boss should listen to me more” could be turned around to say “I should listen to me more” or “I should listen to my boss more.”

One day in the mid-90’s, the familiar thought, “I hate Indian toilets,” ran through my mind. A voice within me said, “Now turn it around.” My immediate response was that the turnaround would be “I love Indian toilets.” That statement was so unacceptable to me that I wouldn’t even entertain the possibility that there could be truth in it. Then another sentence came to mind. “I love to hate Indian toilets!” That turnaround sent me into laughter and my energy shifted completely.

As the the years went by, most of the toilets in the ashram became toilets that combine the two styles, but once I had accepted the belief that “I love to hate Indian toilets,” I no longer had the strong negative reaction to them. Even today, I smile when I recall that long-ago incident.

Letting Go of Suffering- Week Eleven: Stopping the Critical Self Talk

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Suffering is created or enhanced by critical self-talk. An important step in ending suffering is to replace the negative critical messages with positive nurturing and/or structuring messages.

Source: Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children.
Source: Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children.

Creating nurturing and structuring messages is a skill that takes practice. This lesson will focus on helping you to learn that skill by walking you through a multi-step process. At the end of the lesson you find a worksheet you can copy for future use.

EXAMPLE:

State the problem in one sentence:

I forgot to bring my children’s sack lunches when I drove them to the bus that would take them to summer camp.

What critical messages are you telling yourself?

1) Stupid! There were 300 children there and you were the ONLY parent who forgot her children’s lunches.
2) You are a terrible parent.
3) Why are you making such a big deal out of nothing? They won’t be allowed to go hungry.

Identify nurturing messages you can use to counteract the critical messages (messages that are gentle, caring, supportive, and unconditional).

1) You do care for your children and they know it.
2) You are a good parent even though you make mistakes.
3) It is highly unlikely that you were the only parent who forgot their child’s lunch.
4) It is important for your children to know that you make mistakes. When they see you make a mistake, they learn that it is okay for them to make mistakes.
5) You were feeling very sad because your friend Jean was leaving today and you won’t see her for a very long time. It is understandable that you didn’t remember everything.

Identify structuring messages you can use to counteract the critical messages (messages that set limits, show how and give options. 

1) Talk to the camp counselors. Tell them what happened and ask if they have arrangements for children who come without lunches.
2) Tell your children that you forgot the food and have them help brainstorm solutions.
3) Check and see if there is time for you to go to a convenience store and buy them some lunch. Continue reading “Letting Go of Suffering- Week Eleven: Stopping the Critical Self Talk”

Letting Go of Suffering- Week Ten: Failure

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You are lovable even when you fail.

Failing is a normal and necessary part of living.

You can learn from every failure.

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Another behavior that often leads to suffering is failure. Failure is “to disappoint expectations or trust; to fall short; to be or become absent or inadequate; to be unsuccessful.” (Webster’s Ninth New College Dictionary, Springfield: Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1988, p. 445)

The reality is that any time we choose to act, we take the risk of failure. In order to succeed, we must be willing to risk failing. There is much that can be gained from acting, even if the result is failure. As with mistakes, it is important to see that failure is a necessary part of living and that something can be learned from every failure. Continue reading “Letting Go of Suffering- Week Ten: Failure”

Jane Goodall: A New Kind of World

Photo Credit: Wikimedia
Photo Credit: Jeekc on Wikimedia

“I think one of the most important things for people to understand,” says Goodall, “is don’t feel helpless when you look at all the problems of the world.

Realize that if you think about the consequences of the small choices you make each day — what you buy, what you eat, where did it come from, how was it made, did it harm the environment, cruelty to animals, child slave labor — [you] make more ethical decisions.

It’s not just you. It’s more and more people around the world. In the end, it’s hundreds of millions of people making small choices, that are the right choices, that leads us to a new kind of world.”

Source

Letting Go of Suffering- Week Nine: Mistakes

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You are lovable even when you make mistakes.

Making mistakes is important for your growth.

You can learn from every mistake.

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Making a mistake is one of those life situations that often leads to suffering. A mistake is “a wrong action or statement proceeding from faulty judgment, inadequate knowledge or inattention.” (Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1988 p. 760.)

An important step in letting go of the suffering is to adopt the mind-set that mistakes are an important and necessary part of living, and that something can be learned from every mistake. In time, you may even come to see making a mistake as a positive event rather than a negative one.

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This week, record every mistake you make. Write down the tiny mistakes as well as the big ones. Next to the mistake, write what you learned from making it and what you will do differently in the future. Add more paper if you need to.

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You are lovable even when you make mistakes.

Making mistakes is important for your growth.

You can learn from every mistake.

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See you next Monday for the tenth lesson.

To find the lessons in this series that have already been published click here.