80 Years in Eight Days — Day Number Eight: 10 Inspirational Instructions

This is the end — the last day of the year, the last installment of my mother’s birthday project, and the last entry on this blog for 2014.  My mother is 80 years old today.  Here is a list of 10 Inspirational Instructions that she has embodied throughout her life.  They are also serving as my New Year’s Resolutions for 2015.  My mom is indeed an inspiration, and I hope she’ll keep breathing life in for many more years.

1)Trust God, but do your homework.”  This quote she always attributed to her own mother.  I think it’s a great motto to pass on from generation to generation.  In essence, it acknowledges our humility but does not absolve us from responsibility.  We are not in control of all things, but we are in control of some.  When you’re able to dance on that line with grace, you’re living wisely.

2) Regularly make the effort to right-size and divest.  This comes from her organizational practice, and it’s a great reminder at the end of every year.  I’ve watched mom go through “weeding out” stages my whole life.  She systematically keeps her possessions under control: clothes, books, papers, housewares, pantry stock, music, everything.  Steve & I are furiously reducing inventory at the book business now.  Part of the fun is putting those things you divest into the hands of someone who will use and appreciate them.  Recycle generously!

3) Gather experiences, not things.  I remember my mother answering all inquiries about what she wanted for a gift with some version of this philosophy.  She wanted something to live, not something to dust.  I hope she gets lots of what she wants for a long time. 

photo by Josh

photo by Josh

4) “Look wider still.”  This is a Girl Scout challenge from International Thinking Day… “and when you think you’re looking wide, look wider still.”  My mother loves this slogan.  It applies so well to being broad-minded, tolerant, open and forever learning.  It’s a big world.  Even after 80 years, there’s a wider view to see.

5) “Only connect.”  This phrase became the name of a BBC quiz show in 2008.  It is derived from E. M. Forster’s novel Howard’s End, where a character says, “Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”  The phrase has also been used to describe the liberal education, which celebrates and nurtures human freedom.  I just learned these references from Google.  From mom, I learned that rush of joy, that flush of understanding and the pure delight of living that shows in her face when she utters this phrase at the end of a stimulating discussion.  That I learned years ago.  

6) Don’t disown your own.  “Only connect” applies to people, too, even and especially those near and dear who have a greater capacity to disappoint us.  Looking wider than our expectations and our attachments allows us to see that we do not exist in isolation except by our own dogmatic choosing.  Long after I learned this from watching mom, I heard it echoed in the writing of Thich Nhat Hahn.  “We inter-are,” he says.  The cosmos is held together in inter-being.  Acting as though we’re separate and separating in judgment is an act of violence against the Universe.  Peace is understanding there is no duality. 

photo by Josh

photo by Josh

7) Let go; let God.  My mother has always had the capacity for anxiety.  She likes to do things “the right way”, she pays attention to details, and she fears the usual things from failure to death.  So do I.  Face it, we live in a pretty neurotic culture.  Mom showed me by her example how to recognize this in yourself and then to strive to be a “non-anxious presence”.  That doesn’t mean she was good at it.  It means she practiced.  That’s inspiring.

8) “Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”  This one comes straight out of the Bible (Ephesians), and it was a practice that she and my father adopted religiously.  Every night, I’d hear them from behind their bedroom door, talking in low voices and then praying in unison.  Taking responsibility for your emotions and communicating them is another inspiring example.  Own your anger; it is about you.  Talk about your anger to someone else.  Then you are re-connected and at peace.  It’s not magic; it’s useful. 

9) “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms.”  This also comes straight out of the Bible (Deuteronomy), but in the very next line, those arms are thrusting out against enemies and doing violence.   The everlasting arms that my mother referred to were supportive.  They were secure and safe.  If I am to grow out of my neuroses at all, I think I need to begin to trust that the World is a good place.  I belong here.  Even though I myself and everyone I know will die, we end up right here.  That’s the way it is, and there’s nothing wrong. 

10) “Let nothing disturb thee, nothing affright thee.  All things are passing; God never changeth.  Patient endurance attaineth to all things.  Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting.  Alone God sufficeth. ”  Teresa of Avila, translated by Longfellow.  Mom had these words written up in her small hand and pasted on the inside of her desk cubbyhole door.  It was like a secret she showed me when we were worried about something.  All things are passing.  This fear, this problem, this moment.  Patience.  Change and movement is how Life is, and it is well.  I really believe that and strive to remember it.  I think that all of Life is embraced in that dynamic, including God.

All things are passing, year into year, life into life, microscopically and macroscopically.  We are so fortunate to be aware of our experience of it!  I am ever grateful to my mother for sharing her life and her awareness and so many of her experiences with me.  I look forward to more! 

mom laughing

photo by Josh

 

May each of you be happy and at peace in this year’s ending and in the continuation of Life in the New Year!

Imagine

While investigating a new follower, GYA today, I watched this YouTube clip from his May 17 post.  Again, I had to ask myself about the source of my tears.  (see my post Why These Tears? from 2 days ago)  Watch it and see if you don’t have the same questions.

Okay, I’ll wait while you go get a tissue.  Or watch it again.  (I did both.)

I love his choice of song.  It really puts the focus on the force of consciousness.  What does your brain spend time on?  Did you catch the comment by the one judge who said that it made her think that the things she worries about are “pathetic”?  Pathetic.  Sad.  Sorrowful.  Tearful.  That we get stuck in negative and depressive patterns of thought surrounding circumstance is very sad to me.  That there are other options, that we do have the capability to change our focus and probably our futures is the great joy.  The tears are a double whammy.  I am sad that seeing physical deformity and hearing the story of a child’s abandonment brings me to focus on depression by default.  I am overjoyed to see that assumption shattered by the reality of a young man who enjoys love, the gift of a beautiful voice, and the opportunity to create a life that is satisfying to himself and an inspiration to others. 

I hope that anyone reading this can take the time to IMAGINE today.  Imagine the things you worry about dissolving in a broader perspective.  Imagine your limitations transformed by the transcendence of judgment.  “Handicaps” aren’t handicaps.  Reality is neutral.  You can make a positive or a negative judgment about them, and that will effect your experience of them.   I really believe this is what we do with our enormous brains, but most of our culture thinks that’s metaphysical hocus-pocus and that quality of life is found in the nature of circumstances.   “IF” conditions are right, you can be happy.  Why not just be happy and never mind “conditions”?  This is not my own idea, of course.  It stems from centuries of Buddhist thought about suffering.  I have only recently begun to see it illustrated in my Western life.   So here’s the million dollar question: what is happiness and how can you discover it?  My mother used to quote, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  If so, joy is everywhere.  Happiness is everywhere.  It’s already here, then.  It doesn’t need to be discovered; it may simply need to be uncovered.  “Cleaning the windshield” is what Steve sometimes calls it.  Get rid of the crud that keeps you from seeing the happiness that is all around.  Imagine!

Living for today…