I discovered to my astonishment when I went to update my WordPress account that I had last posted on New Year’s Day of 2013. Those who have followed my blogging journey know that I have fallen away from writing from time to time, but a year? Last year was a moment, a lifetime, a daily slog. In the end I added another slab of clay to a life mostly molded with a strong and recognizable shape. My sculpture grew in some ways predictably, in others, less so. My gardening became a massive bounty of produce that I never anticipated; shared with friends and strangers I never met. I taught myself to preserve that same bounty in lovely sparkling jars now gracing my pantry shelves. I learned new things about myself and others as well as what makes a great garden grow.
After a patchy go at trying to fill in the gaps for work and personal growth, taking college classes that aided both but never added up to that coveted piece of paper; I charted a course to finally achieve that, until now, elusive goal. To that end I stepped back into a college classroom a few weeks shy of my 60th birthday and discovered that instead of feeling old, I felt experienced. I took a single class that set me off in a new direction, with enthusiasm and excitement I lacked during every previous college experience.
For the first time in my life I chose to suspend my disbelief and open my heart to faith. I learned quickly it is not an epiphany but a way of living; constantly reminding myself to open my heart and ask for grace in all things. I never realized that the practice of believing can lead to belief, rather than having belief which is then practiced. I know there are many gifted with the later, but it took a wise man of God to suggest that the opposite might work for a searching, but Doubting Thomas such as myself.
The grand and the minutia and all the daily bits of life sandwiched between; when one reflects back on a year, each has its role and place in memory. Five years from now, which bits will remain and built upon? Which bits will drift away into the mist and leave little reminder. Even though we seek to live lives of value and honesty, it is a perplexing effort, trying to know which things will linger and add to the fabric of our lives. In this especially then, I wish all of you the grace to believe, and the opportunity to offer your experience and wisdom to those around you.
“Happiness, knowledge, not in another place but this place, not for another hour but this hour.” –Walt Whitman
So many wait to begin at the beginning; of the New Year, of the week, of the next perceived starting point. Yet what are we doing while waiting for that perfect moment? In some cases one actually undermines the future opportunity that lies ahead. How many times is a diet or exercise program preceded by splurging on rich food and indulging in couch time?
We put off, we set aside, we make poor choices with the promise of doing better; all common behaviors. Waiting for that perfect time to begin, so many hours and days are left languishing, sliding away, unused, unrecoverable. Many long for more time to follow pursuits that seem distant, yet killing time is a common device. More than any other benefit, mindfulness offers us more time. Each moment that we can maintain our mindful presence is one well used adding to the storehouse of experience, knowledge and memory. Arriving at one’s destination having seen each sight, breathed the scents of the place, with the feel of the swirling air of the present on one’s skin, the journey becomes a piece of us.
There are dozens of lists detailing how to make the most of one’s down time; waiting being so much a part of the many errands we run. Bring a book, write a list, call a friend; each useful and certainly productive. But could we not also add breathe, listen, look about, dip you hand in the fountain?
As this day of fresh starts becomes the next and the next, let us remember that we can wait until the next day or hour to become present in this moment. We are here, we are now, and the storehouses of our lives are filled to the brim with all there is when we give over each instant to mindfulness and intent.
I have maintained a rather apolitical stance through all the election hubbub and refrained from posting any comments one way or the other on my Facebook page as many of my friends posted endless streams to support their viewpoint. Some have been unable to let go, even as the election results are cast in stone and the work of running the country goes on. One helpful post appeared (whether he realized it or not), directing the reader to a site that advocates for a national sales tax with some interesting aspects to allow those with little to better afford what they might buy. Within the first site (ah the internet, one thing leads to another and another), I discovered a site that has a wonderful history of the tax system in the United States from European settlement to present-day. I include that link here because it is NOT political and I found it fascinating http://taxhistory.tax.org/
The main reason I suppose that I found it so fascinating is my lack of education in American History. Yes, I took all the required classes, and did well, but much of it was rote memorization of parts of documents, facts and dates, an endless stream of information regurgitated for the instructor with little concern for comprehension. I recall an exit requirement from the eighth grade was to memorize the preamble of the US Constitution. By the end of high school I was memorizing key Supreme Court cases, and a brief one line synopsis of the issue. Little of this gave me an understanding of who we are and how we got here.
In beginning to read the tax history I was immediately confronted with my lack of knowledge in general and resolved before too long that it is time to focus my non-fiction reading on US History. That I know so little and yet consider myself intelligent and fairly well read and well-informed was not so much a shock as a reminder that it in the age of information overload it is easy to focus on the minutia and overlook the big picture which reveals itself to us in the study of the past.
In my short exploration I found that our tax history points to a couple of trends. The first is that taxes have been used to the end of social engineering since their inception, and I suspect I would find that the case even if I continued to trace tax history to the days of the Roman Empire. Second, the opinion of the value of private wealth to the greater society ebbs and flows, often with the overall prosperity or lack of, in those with the least. In times of full employment and wages balanced against cost of goods, personal wealth is more accepted. That taxes have such a consistent history, albeit a roller-coaster ride with the economic times, opened my eyes to another aspect of the axiom “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, George Santayana.
And thus my resolve. Learning our history with an eye to what drove the events will help me to understand the present more clearly when I am able to see the patterns of the past. Perhaps it will also help me temper my reactions to my dear friends who are so insistent in pressing their passionately held beliefs on others.
When Bonner School, a Montana middle school, resumed classes this fall they decided to shake things up a bit and try to implement some changes that would help the students through the difficult transitional years of sixth through eighth grades. Studies show that body awareness combined with wide ranging levels of physical maturity, often cause girls to hang back and participate less in coed gym classes. But in a small school, same-sex classes were a scheduling challenge. To make it all work, in addition to gym the computer classes are now single sex as well.
After nearly two months, the results are even better than expected. Gym teacher Josh Illig sees more participation by girls that are less athletic and has seen their confidence grow, not just in gym class but in general. The boys are louder and more physical during gym, but exhibit far more concentration during the computer class time with the same-sex environment.
There is still plenty of class time and free time when the students share the classroom and develop the skills to work with each other. In this critical time though, the girls especially, have the chance to increase their body confidence and activity levels; both critical developmental issues in the middle school years. This preparation for the larger world of high school and beyond gives all the girls a chance to feel strong and confident, critical to success in any setting. The boys as well are benefitting from increased activity during gym and a more focused environment in another critical skill area, the computer class. The girls as well remarked that it was quieter and easier to work in the computer class with the all girl setting.
This is a win-win solution, requiring a little imagination and the determination to foster the growth of all the kids in one of the most difficult and important times in their schooling. The result; strong bodies and strong minds growing from resourceful and creative administrators and staff.
Last spring I was so lost in the gray days that seemed to stretch on forever that I would just look outside in the morning, sigh, and prepare for another nothing day. But choosing happiness, I look out at the gray day, step outside and tune in to the natural world. The birds are returning at a furious rate and the songs have gone from a symphony to a battle of the bands. Stepping out on the deck I breathe in the cool mountain air, laugh at the cacophony and allow myself to feel the world around me reawakening.
A benefit of blogging is being able to compose on the computer, rather than in notebooks, which has been my customary practice. I still keep a journal at hand when I am reading just to jot down quotes or ideas that strike me, but I am able to move to the computer and do the real work here. As a result I am continuing to refine my workspace and bring together the items that allow my creativity to flow on to paper. This has been such a fun and exciting process, it keeps me focused on my goals and I look forward to the time I can spend on my projects.
Today is my WordPress class at the library, hopefully I can get some tips on making this blog more interesting and connected with the rest of the blogosphere. If not, I will run home and sign up for the adult education classes offered this spring.
Words to focus on today: mindfulness, joy, learning