Monday, March 12, 2012

Sticks, streams & puddle-jumping – Life’s Simple Pleasures

Have you ever had an irrational desire to do something simple that you did as a child?  Or been swamped with a sudden wave of nostalgia?  These moments often hit unexpectedly, usually in the middle of something potentially important or when you “don’t have the time”.  We often suppress these desires.

Today was one of those days.  I experienced a rush of nostalgic pleasure as I walked to work this morning.  Then, after grabbing something quick for lunch, I was rushing to back to work to eat at my desk.  Following a couple of heavy snowfalls and a return to winter conditions, I found myself walking in weather that could only be described as spring-like.  As I slipped and slid down the sidewalks, I experienced that euphoric rush back into childhood memories and just about found myself in a puddle, on purpose.  

I remember the many times that we ventured outside in springtime to watch the melt water rush, trickle or gurgle over the uneven fringes of the road, running through the culverts and down the ditches.  We’d float walnut shell and Plasticine-filled boats (maybe with a toothpick and paper sail), or maybe just a “seaworthy” stick down these mini makeshift rivers, watching them bob along through the rough rapids, the placid straightaways and over the big drop offs, wondering if they’d get stuck, if they’d sink or just how far they’d go.  We’d be entertained for hours (and days).

I remember going to play in the puddles as a kid.  We’d play on the mini-slough that was the semi-truck parking lot across from my house, precariously venturing out onto the thawing ice, hoping that we’d get enough crack and give in the ice to make it interesting, without plunging us through it, into the frigid water below.  Sometimes, you’d have that heart-plummeting moment of going through the ice or that teetering moment that comes as you move through a P.O.U.D. (Puddle Of Unknown Depth), where you’d wonder, “Is the water going to go over my boot this time?”, giving the dreaded “booter”.  After the inevitable booter (or two since two feet = two booters), you’d experience a liberation or freedom from care (because, once your feet were wet, they weren’t getting any wetter), allowing you to boldly go further (usually leading to wet pants and a retreat indoors).

Do you remember that distinctive loud, hollow cracking sound that those big ice bubbles make in the morning or the sound/feeling that “crackle ice” makes as you walk on it?  Every time (I am serious, EVERY time) I walk on ice in the spring, it takes me back to more carefree times and gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.  Hmmm.

We often refer to these things as “Life’s Simple Pleasures”.  What is it about those moments that have such a strong appeal for us and brings a smile to our face/mind?  Obviously, there is something there that is strong enough to provide a positive and happy memory, despite the separation of many years and the clutter of a million (or more) other memories.

I think that the reason that we are pulled back into these memories (with an almost unconscious movement to follow through on them) because they are pure and innocent and are not tied to any sort of serious, negative consequence (unless you still live with your mom and she is going to give you crap for getting your boots wet, again).  Too often in life, we restrict or limit ourselves mentally, saying we don’t have time, or it is too silly or we won’t look appropriate or we are grown up now.  There is certainly time and places for that (i.e. good, appropriate behaviour).  But maybe a few minutes of puddling (metaphorical or physical) is what we need to keep us sane and in balance.

I don’t know about you, but I am going to put on some rubber boots tonight and make a splash.  It won’t hurt...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Power of Words

From the beginning of time (or at least recorded history), one of the ways that the progress of a society has been measured is by its ability to communicate.  Some civilizations or societies maintained an oral tradition, passing on the knowledge and experiences gained throughout generations by a father talking to a son or mother to a daughter.  Others used a written language or process.

I have always loved words.  In many ways, it runs in the family.  We love to read and we love to talk.  The cynical among you might suggest a genetic predisposition to wordiness in my family.  It is possible.  Certainly, we are not afraid of words, written or verbal.  A quick scan through a couple of genealogical layers reveals writers of plays, poems, music, novels, encyclopedia, manuals, etc.  There are many accomplished orators in the same ranks.  Most love to read.  I know that I do.

Few things have the ability to affect a reaction more than WORDS.  Those reactions can vary across an incredibly diverse spectrum.  Words (and their associated symbols) can:
  •  evoke memories
  • trigger visualizations or mental images
  • elicit strong physical, spiritual or emotional responses

Words (written or verbal) carry a massive memory response or linkage.  The linkage goes in two directions.  Sometimes seeing or hearing something like a phrase or a word will bring a rush of memories.  Going the other direction, sometimes seeing, hearing or feeling something will bring “forgotten” words or phrases to our minds.  For example, for me, the image of a skull bring the words of The Bard (Shakespeare) from his play “Hamlet” to mind “To be or Not to be/ That is the question” (although technically, it should trigger “Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well”, but who’s perfect?).

The words of songs often have a strong memory or association.  Whether it is a children’s nursery rhyme or the song you associate with your true love, lyrics bring memories, good times and bad.

Some (verbal or written) symbols are firmly entrenched in our deep societal memory, going back beyond our physical lifespan.  They exist simply because it is such a huge part of our history. For example, consider a simple thing like a small red flower worn on a lapel.  For many Canadians (or at least for me), this triggers the lines of an oft repeated poem, “In Flanders fields the poppies blow; between the crosses, row on row...”  This brings memories of sacrifice and freedoms, memories of stories of ancestors, feelings of sadness and loss, but also joy and appreciation.  All from a simple poem and a symbol that is associated with it.

Words have the power to elicit a physical response. For me, the mere recitation of the lines of the above poem causes me to have a physical shiver and a tightening of my throat.  Hurtful words cause a physical tightening in my chest.  Spiritually stirring words cause warmth or burning feeling in the same area.

The old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may be true in theory, but words can cause (and have caused) many strong emotional responses, resulting in a physical reaction.  Some words cause us to smile or frown, laugh or cry.  “Them’s fightin’ words” is a pretty descriptive phrase, don’t you think?

It has been said that “the pen is mightier than the sword”, perhaps due to the ability of words to bring about permanent change more readily than physical and violent action.

I think that the true power of words comes from the ability to alter our emotional state.  Words can calm.  Words can upset, render us sad, angry, depressed or worried.  Words can brighten our day, improve our attitude or improve our morale.  Words can enrich us.  Words can be treasures or they can destroy.

Words are like rocks thrown into a pond.  The next time you are in a room of people, watch what different people’s words do to the emotional atmosphere.  I’m sure you’ve seen it before.  The first words or comments will set the direction or tone of the subsequent discussion.  A positive or optimistic word will spawn more positive comments.  Negativity will do the same.  Nothing dampens enthusiasm or creativity like negative words.

While we often take our words for granted, words can have a major impact on those around you.  We are careful of our physical movements or how we act towards others physically, but we usually give less thought to our words than we ought to.  We would rarely physically hurt someone deliberately, but we’ll toss words around casually.

We should consider the key place that our words take in our lives and our human natures.  Consider the following equation.

Words = Thoughts = Action = Habits = Character

Words lead us to think.  Our thoughts lead to action.  Our actions turn into habits, which in turn reflect or define our character. 

Words are powerful.  Some of the most powerful words are “I’m sorry” and “I love you”.  Use your words delicately.  They’ll take you places.  If you choose wisely, you’ll probably like where you end up.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Value – What are you worth?

Over the past couple of months, I have been seized by a desire to make some changes.  That has meant making adjustments to who I am, both cutting as well as adding.

I have taken some new steps.  I’ve attempted to tap into some creative options and energies.  One area that has been at the forefront of my mind is the potential for some other work or extra income.  I’ve undertaken some work on the side of my regular, full-time job.  One could say that it isn’t really a huge leap or shift, as it merely represents similar activities in a different venue or to a different audience.  That being said, it has resulted in a whole series of internal (and sometimes external) self-worth exercises.

When you ask someone to pay you to do something (assuming you can get to that point), you have to outline what you are worth.  And it doesn’t really stop at “Here is my fee” and them smiling and accepting it.  You have to outline the what, the why (usually several times) and the how.  You have to prove, in a sense that you are worth what you are asking.  It is hard. 

Our society has developed individuals that generally follow two trains of thought or that fall into two categories.  There are those that feel that humility or modesty is most important, where the worth of an individual should not supersede that of others around you.  Often, this turns into self-deprecation or undervaluing ourselves.  On the other end of the individual value spectrum are those that have a strong and inherent sense of value.  I suppose one would call that confidence.  Some people exude a sense of superiority.  This mutates into a need to “toot their own horn” or feel like their value must exceed that of others. 

Wherever you fall into the value or self-worth spectrum (and I’ve found it can shift as you progress through life or from situation to situation), it isn’t always easy.  At least it hasn’t been for me.  You have to constantly re-evaluate your abilities, including whether you are actually capable of meeting the value that has been contracted.  You have to prepare, demonstrate and then deliver.  It is tough.  I assume that this gets somewhat easier with time and with experience.  One can hope.

While I don’t feel that modesty is wrong or incorrect, it is a challenge to look past one’s current limitations and embrace what you can become.  What I’ve learned from this whole experience is this:

1)      You (and your time) are worth something – don’t undervalue.  If you have to sort out what that time is worth, consider what you would have done with that same time if you were to do something else.

2)      Accept that it is going to be painful, or at best, mildly uncomfortable to negotiate your value.

3)      Do your best.  When all is said and done, you just have to bear down and get the job done.  Let your work and efforts demonstrate your value and wipe out the doubt (your doubt and their’s).

As I contemplated this topic, a faint memory of a poem came to mind.

Author: Anonymous

Not - How did he die? But - How did he live?
Not - What did he gain? But - What did he give?

These are the things that measure the worth

Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Not - What was his station? But - had he a heart?

And - How did he play his God-given part?

Was he ever ready with a word of good cheer?

To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?

Not - What was his church? Not - What was his creed?

But - Had he befriended those really in need?

Not - What did the sketch in the newspaper say?

But - How many were sorry when he passed away?

These are the things that measure the worth

Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Here are several other quotations that I came across that resonated with me.

Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one's own sunshine.”  – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Having a low opinion of yourself is not "modesty". It's self-destruction. Holding your uniqueness in high regard is not "egotism". It's a necessary precondition to happiness and success.” – Bobbe Sommer

Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.” – Malcolm S. Forbes

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Prayer - There is someone listening

Prayer means very different things to different people. I hadn’t given that concept much thought before today.  I mean, prayer is prayer, right? To me, it is many things, including but not limited to:
1.       A way to communicate with God, my Heavenly Father, about whatever
2.       A way to build a relationship with my Heavenly Father
3.       A source of comfort (from my Heavenly Father), which I can access whenever I need it
4.       A means of expressing gratitude, needs, desires or aspirations
5.       A starting (and ending) point for inspiration and understanding, questions and answers

Today, while on the way to a date with Gillian (or already on it, I guess), we were listening to the CBC Radio program, Definitely Not The Opera (D.N.T.O.). Today, their subject was the “Power of Prayer”.  They featured a number of interviews and perspectives with different individuals, including celebrities, authors, random people on the street, as well as the main program host. It prompted some intense thinking and a lively discussion.

As each interviews unfolded, the people explained their views on what prayer was and what it did or didn’t do for them or what it had or hadn’t done. They related experiences where they (or someone near them) had prayed for them or someone else. Then they explained (or perhaps they rationalized) the outcome. It was frustrating to listen to people come so close to grasping the true power of prayer and its purpose, only to hear them explain away what happened, cast aside the experience or make light of the relationship and the source of the power.

On the program, most of the people made a first or second step towards what I would consider to be a grasp of what prayer is, or at least what it can be. Here is what I heard and what I think about the principle of prayer that they took missed. It isn’t exhaustive, but it is a start.

1.       Where is prayer directed? People didn’t make the connection with the end point or who receives prayer. Most did not acknowledge that it was directed at God. Some of them sort of figured that prayer was simply focused thought(s).
  • Prayer is communication with a loving Heavenly Father. It isn’t (or shouldn’t be) empty words. There is someone listening. By ignoring or dismissing that there is someone on the other end, we undermine the ability of our Heavenly Father participate in our lives and blind ourselves to the blessings and miracles that occur.

2.      A Prayerful Heart? People made a big deal about saying prayer in unusual places or seemed to think that prayer could only be done at certain times and places.
  • We need to grasp the concept of “a prayerful heart” and that we can pray always. I have always felt that I can offer a simple, silent prayer as it is needed, whether before a test, a random or routine job task or to express my gratitude for the help that I have had from my Heavenly Father. I have also prayed at more regular occasions. Prayer is personal and doesn’t have to be a public show, but should be used often.

3.       Is Prayer a Recipe? I think that people get hung up on the words or think that prayer is a recipe that will only turn out right if you do it just so. People seem to think that prayer is something that is laid out for you to recite and then it is done. Some of the interviewees thought that prayer was some sort of repetitive expression.
  • Prayer is, in basic terms, communication or a conversation with our Heavenly Father. As such, while there is a basic format, we have the opportunity to speak freely, expressing our gratitude and thankfulness, as well as asking for help, answers to questions, etc. I feel that prayer is personal and should be used to communicate and draw closer to God; something that I think is restricted or inhibited when we use rote prayers. When I pray, I express myself and there is the ability to create a dialogue back and forth, with inspiration the result.

4.       The Purposes and Potential for Prayer? People missed the many potential purposes of prayer and the blessings that it can bring to their lives. On the program, people recounted that they hadn’t prayed in 20+ years or seemed to make light of what had happened and didn’t continue.
  • Prayer can be for help, comfort, questions, to express gratitude or to build a relationship with our Heavenly Father. People didn’t recognize that prayer is powerful. I have been greatly blessed by prayer, but through my own application of it and through the support of others.

5.       Prayer + Faith + Action? People didn’t link prayer, faith and action. It is an empty process for them.
  • Prayer is a process and an active tool, at least to me. We need to have faith that what we ask for can be given and we need to have faith that it will be given in an appropriate way. Some people acknowledged that prayer did change their perspective but they undermined it and attributed the results to themselves or something else.

6.       Results from Prayer? People didn’t acknowledge the feelings or positive impact that they experienced during and after prayer. Some felt more at peace. Some felt better. Some recognized the importance of regular prayer, but didn’t make the connection with the act and the results.
  • Prayer brings tangible results, in the form of feelings, impressions and sometimes very powerful answers and impacts. Prayer draws us closer to God and will be an influence for good in our lives.

I have great faith in prayer. This has come as a result of years of experience, as well as many experiences. I was taught about prayer from an early age, about the application(s) and the power of prayer. I saw the powerful example of my parents. I was encouraged to make prayer a tangible and practical spiritual tool, rather than some sort of inflexible or prescribed recipe or recital. I learned and I experienced how prayer can and should be linked with the actions in our lives. I learned that you can go to your Heavenly Father at any time, about anything. He is there and he will not only listen, but will provide answers to prayers. As life has continued, I’ve continued to pray. I’ve seen the positive influence in my life and the life of my family. I try to teach (and show) the potential power that prayer can have in the lives of my children and family.

Prayer is a powerful gift and a wonderful opportunity for us to use. I am so grateful for my understanding of prayer and that I have been fortunate enough to receive answers to my prayers. I know that when I pray, someone is actively listening and things will happen as a result.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Directed Motivation with Delusions of Improvement (a.k.a. Goals)

The year 2012 was barely 12 hours old and I'd already heard one talk in church and I'd led one discussion on the importance of setting goals. By 36 hours, I'd led a second goal setting discussion with my wife and kids and we'd established some simple goals for myself and my family. I expect that more introspection and internal, mental churning will take place over the coming days and weeks. Let's just say that there is lots to improve on.

There is something about the dawning of a new year that drives humans to evaluate their lives and to creatively (and sometimes unrealistically) outline a new path or to attempt a self-re-invention or to conduct a specified overhaul of their lives. Personally, I am all for it. I figure, if we aren't taking a serious look at ourselves and our habits, behaviours, qualities and our general progress in life, we are living in a delusional half-life or at least a proverbial "mental cave".

Goals serve several purposes. They:
  1. narrow our focus and attention and direct our efforts (potentially improving our efficiency)
  2. result in an increase in effort (again linked to efficiency)
  3. give us more reason to work through setbacks and obstacles
  4. can lead to change in attitudes and behaviour
During my preparation for my lesson on Sunday, I came across some good points that really highlight the importance of focused and "true" goal setting (as opposed to false/fake goals). During the ensuing discussion, there were some excellent points raised by men I really respect, as well as some of those great mental AH-HA moments that I am always grateful to receive.

The first quotation that I shared with my class was one by O. Leslie Stone (I was informed that he is an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy - good to know).

“We should all constantly evaluate our progress. To live righteous lives and accomplish the purpose of our creation, we must constantly review the past, determine our present status, and set goals for the future. Without this process there is little chance of reaching one’s objectives”

I have to ditto this one. I think that it is absolutely critical for us to constantly assess our progress in life relative to our overall purpose in life. We can't truly tell if we are gaining ground or making headway unless we take an occasional look behind us. Looking backwards occasionally has the added advantage of providing us with the necessary perspective we require to make course adjustments and corrections throughout our lives. That is why experience is in the past.

To clarify, I don't think that you have to spend all of your time "micro-checking" your progress, as this is counter-productive, but you should do periodic checks. These checks can (and probably should) be a part of your goal setting process, with milestones and check stops built into your overall goal(s). Milestones are sort of like micro-goals or stages within your goals, regardless of whether the goals are short, medium or long-term.

Another great quotation that I came across that really resonated with me was one by Elder Dean L. Larsen (an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). He taught:

“An important distinction must be made between the potentially confining aspects of setting specific goals and the much more encompassing need of having a general purpose in life. This distinction is more than a play upon words. One’s purpose in life has an overriding influence on what he does with his time, energy, and resources...”

“Unless the goals and objectives an individual works toward are harmonious with his general purpose in life, a devastating kind of internal conflict can develop which is destructive to happiness and personal development. Appropriate, useful goals and objectives must be a direct outgrowth of one’s perceived purpose in life. Otherwise they can lead to a random expenditure of effort and resources that may not contribute effectively to long-range progress.”

To me, the take home message from Elder Larsen is how important it is for us to clearly recognize and accept what our overarching priorities and purposes in life are. If we set goals that are out of synch with our priorities, we'll make no progress and I think that we will actually do some damage to ourselves (sort of a disruptive disharmony - if you can wrap your head around that). Focused goals are good. Focused goals that align and mesh with our priorities are better. Honest, appropriate effort towards our goals that align with our priorities is best.

Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a number of excellent points relating to goal setting. I have to say that I had several of my AH-HA moments while discussing or considering what he taught.

"When you set a goal and commit yourself to the necessary self-discipline to reach that goal, you will eliminate most of the problems in your life. Spend your energies doing those things that will make a difference.”

He also taught:

"I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the technique of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential."

Another quotation from Elder Ballard:

"I would suggest that if you want to have success in the goal-setting process, you learn to write your goals down. I would even put them in a prominent place—on your mirror or on the refrigerator door."

What I keyed in on in these quotations were the points suggesting that while setting a goal is important, commitment and self-discipline are required to achieving the goal. It is how we live and what we do towards a goal that matters. The goal is the end, whereas self-discipline, commitment and the expenditure of energy are the means to that end.

I also liked the point of writing down a goal. Somehow moving a thought or a conviction from the mental sphere into the physically tangible realm makes it more real. Posting it, or as the class discussion suggested, sharing it with a loved one (spouse, family member, trusted friend) or by sharing it with God, you put it out there to be remembered. An added advantage would be that you gain the potential for support and encouragement. That is powerful.

Some final, simple quotations on goal setting. Perhaps this'll give you what you need to make some changes in your life. I know that I am going to start the process, soon.

Benjamin N. Woodson said...

“All you need to do is this: Beginning this very day, stop doing some one thing you know you should not do.” After you have written this one thing down, stop doing it! He continues “Start doing each day some one thing you know you should do!”

Elder M. Russell Ballard

"Perfection is a process and not an event, and you will come to appreciate that perfection is an internal matter, not external. It is a process by which you and I learn to eliminate the things in life that are not good, replace them with the things in life that are eternal in nature, with the objective and thought that perfection is obtainable, but it must be earned."

Launch of a Blog

Amidst the wrap up of one year and the launch of another, I find that there is a flurry of thinking, reflecting and general, semi-productive navel gazing that takes place.  Perhaps it is linked to increased turkey intake, combined with general holiday lethargy, euphoria and chocolate.  Also possible, and perhaps more likely, it is due to a subconscious desire to feel like I've contributed something of value to someone or that I have another creative outlet for the "deep" thoughts (or shallow, depending on the topic) that occasionally cross my mind.

Regardless of the cause, I found myself considering creating a blog, and with a few clicks of a button, here it is.  Who knows what the result will be, but I am all a-tingle at the prospects.