24 October 2017      

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Keeping It Together
Rachel Naomi Remen

How to Handle Criticism
Jeff Keller

When the Direction Seems Difficult
tom walsh

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Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life.

Sophia Loren

All the wonders you seek are within yourself.

Sir Thomas Brown

Make the most of yourself, for that is all there is of you.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keeping It Together
Rachel Naomi Remen

When Harry discovered he had colon cancer, he was the administrator of a large insurance company.  The first in a family of farmers to attend college, he had excelled academically almost from the start.  He was known in the industry as a driving, politically sophisticated, and ambitious man whose career was his whole life.  His cancer had been caught early, and his prognosis was excellent.  Everyone had expected him to be back in his office as soon as his scars had healed.  But two days after he returned to work, Harry resigned.  It had taken everyone by surprise.

His company had suspected that he had received a better offer, but this was not the case.  Harry did not work for about a year.  Then he bought a vineyard and moved his family to it.  He has been growing grapes and making wine for the past five years.

"From the moment that I awoke from that surgery, Rachel," he told me, "I knew beyond a doubt that I was living someone else's life.  There had been so much pressure to succeed from my family; they were so proud that I had escaped from the hard life that we had led for generations.  I got caught up in the challenge of it all at first, wondering if I could do it, and then I just kept pushing it.  Somewhere in the process, I stopped listening to myself.

"My father was a farmer and my grandfather  and my great-grandfather.  My father had hated this work, but I am a different sort of man; I understand the land and it matters to me.  I know this work as I know myself.  I belong here in a way that I never belonged anywhere else."

We sat on the deck of his home, looking over a vast green sea of grapevines gently moving in the wind.  Pink roses grew along his fence lines.  Double indemnity and corporate life were another world.  As if reading my thoughts, he turned to me with a rueful smile:  "My favorite saying used to be 'My way or the highway.'  I was so proud to be living personally and professionally on my own terms.  It was hard to see that I had sold myself out so completely that I had not even noticed."

Integrity is an ongoing process, a dynamic happening over time that requires our ongoing attention.  A medical colleague describing his own experience of staying true to himself told me that he thinks of his life as an orchestra.  Reclaiming his integrity reminds him of that moment before the concert when the concertmaster asks the oboist to sound an A.  "At first there is chaos and noise as all the parts of the orchestra try to align themselves with that note.  But as each instrument moves closer and closer to it, the noise diminishes and when they all finally sound it together, there is a moment of rest, of homecoming.

"This is how it feels to me," he told me.  "I am always tuning my orchestra.  Somewhere deep inside there is a sound that is mine alone, and I struggle daily to hear it and tune my life to it.  Sometimes there are people and situations that help me to hear my note more clearly; other times, people and situations make it harder for me to hear.  A lot depends on my commitment to listening and my intention to stay coherent with this note.  It is only when my life is tuned to my note that I can play life's mysterious and holy music without tainting it with my own discordance, my own bitterness, resentment, agendas, and fears."

Deep inside, our integrity sings to us whether we are listening or not.  It is a note that only we can hear.  Eventually, when life makes us ready to listen, it will help us to find our way home.

A second wonderful book of short vignettes by Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather's Blessings is an exploration of the meanings of life and living.  Remen uses the heart-rending stories of her patients to teach readers how to follow in her example, that is, combining a life of service with a life of receiving and giving blessings (a combination that avoids common problems such as burnout, self-sacrifice, and navel gazing).


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How to Handle Criticism
Jeff Keller

There's no denying it:  criticism can (and often does) hurt.  But no matter what you do in life, you expose yourself to the possibility of being judged unfavorably.  Even if you try to remain in the background, avoiding all confrontation, you still must make decisions--minor ones, maybe, like where you eat and what you wear.  And, rest assured, not everyone will agree with your choices.

So, since you are going to receive criticism no matter what, let's take a closer look at how you can best handle (and even benefit from) it!

The next time you are criticized, consider the following points:

1.  Criticism is often nothing more than a reflection of personal preference.
Again, regardless of what you do, somebody won't like it.  For instance, to get feedback from the audience at my seminars, I often hand out speaker evaluations.  Without fail, two or three people will say that they wish there had been more time for audience participation during my presentation; at the very same program, two or three others will say that they wish there had been less time spent on group involvement.  Accept that people have diverse backgrounds, preferences, and interests.  You won't please everyone, so don't even try.

2.  Don't take it personally.
Sure, this is easier said than done.  However, the critic generally isn't trying to prove that you have no value as a person.  Rather, they're revealing their dislike of your idea or your performance.  Let them have their opinions.  In the end, you decide whether or not to let another person's remarks bother you.

3.  Strive to learn from their words.
Find some truth in their statements--even if only a shred.  Usually, there is some accuracy in critical comments. The critic may not be tactful, and the remarks may be greatly exaggerated, but there is often helpful information which you can glean.  It's your job to seek out this kernel of truth and benefit from it!  For example, let's say your spouse accuses you of "never" being on time.  While this statement is not entirely accurate, you should still consider in what ways, if any, you might improve your punctuality.

4.  Don't critique the critic.
It's an equally bad idea to adopt a "consider the source" attitude.  Even if someone is generally untrustworthy or, for whatever reason, you don't get along with him or her, it doesn't mean that their comments will always be completely without merit.

5.  Don't be defensive.
Resist the temptation to argue with the critic.  While it's only natural to try to prove that you are "right" and that the other person is "wrong," this generally gets you nowhere.  (Of course, there will be some instances where it's important to establish that you won't tolerate abusive remarks and that you deserve to be treated with respect.  Use your best judgment.)

6.  Accept that many people focus only on negatives.
The critic rarely gives a full, accurate assessment.  He or she tends to report only the negatives, even if there are plenty of positives to mention as well.  Recognize that some people simply think it's unnecessary to tell you what you've done right.  Instead, they focus only on "helping" you--which, to them, means "correcting" you.

7.  Realize that vicious, harsh comments come from people who are unhappy with themselves.
Here again, there might be a shred of truth or something you can learn from the criticism.  But I've found that mean, angry, insulting remarks spring from unhappy, insecure people.  They have to vent their anger and frustration on someone and you've been chosen as today's target!  Don't let these people bring you down.  NOTE:  If you repeatedly receive harsh words from others, it's not a coincidence.  You are attracting criticism based on your beliefs and your level of self-esteem.  Take responsibility and look inward at what you can change to achieve more harmonious relationships with those around you.

Remember:  not everyone will like you, your goals, or your actions.  But don't let the fear of criticism stop you from doing what you want.  Accept criticism as a part of life, and learn from it where possible.  And, most importantly, stay true to your own values and convictions.  If others don't approve, so what?

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The Sweetest Lives
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The sweetest lives are those to duty wed,
Whose deeds, both great and small,
Are close-knit strands of unbroken thread
Where love ennobles all.
The world may sound no trumpets, ring no bells;
The book of life the shining record tells.

The love shall chant its own beatitudes
After its own life working.  A child's kiss
Set on thy sighing lips shall make thee glad;
A sick man helped by thee shall make thee strong;
Thou shalt be served thyself by every sense
Of service which thous renderest.



When the Direction Seems Difficult

It's very easy to talk about going with the flow in life, allowing life to lead us in directions that life wants to take us rather than trying to define those directions ourselves.  Almost everything we read from major religions and philosophies tells us that when we try to control the directions and flow of our own lives, we set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration, but that if we let life take us in the ways that it knows are best for us, then we'll benefit from the long-term focus that life has versus the short-term focus that we seem to have.

Part of the problem for us, I believe, is that we don't allow ourselves to "let go and let God," as it were, because we think that we know what's best for us.  We think that our logic and rational thinking give us the power to see how we can flourish in life, and what the best courses are to follow.

In my case, I know that this happens very often because I allow the fear to take over my decision-making processes.  It can be the fear of risk-taking, the fear of failure, the fear of new things, or any other fear out there, but these fears often don't allow me to move in certain directions, even when life has cleared the way--even given me not-so-gentle pushes--for me to move in new directions in life.

In response to that fear, I usually start to let what I see as my rational mind take over the decision-making processes.  I start to devise reasons for which I shouldn't move in a certain direction, for which I should take another course that would make much more "sense."  Instead of focusing on acceptance of change and a new path in life, I try to find ways to hold on to the status quo in the hopes of keeping things the way they are.  If I can do this, I can fool myself into thinking that I'm pursuing security, that I'm doing what's "best" for me, when the fact is that by trying to take control of the situation, I'm probably just losing opportunities that probably would expose me to new and beautiful situations in my life.

Right now, for example, an opportunity may be opening up at a place that's four hours away from where we live now.  My rational mind is fighting strongly to avoid this opportunity, as taking the chance would mean a few hardships that I'm not accustomed to, and possibly put a strain on my marriage.  It would mean a lot of time in my car each week, and it would mean starting completely anew in a completely different culture where I may or may not be accepted.

But when I look at those "rational" descriptions of the opportunity, I see a lot of fears reflected there.  I see the fear of change, as my relationship with my wife will most certainly change.  I see the fear of wasting time in my car.  I see the fear of rejection.  There are more reasons and more fears, but these are enough for now.

Relationships should be dynamic, and we should welcome change into them.  Many marriages break up because people try to keep them the same all the time, and then they become dull and boring, with little to no fulfillment.  Time in my car is very peaceful and relaxing for me--almost meditative.  My fears of rejection never have come to pass, no matter where I've lived or what I've done--people are people, and if I'm good to them, they're good to me.

Of course, sometimes we take risks and things seem to go bad because of them.  But in those cases, it's usually because we're going against the flow of life and just convincing ourselves that we're actually letting life lead us.  I've known people who have seen relationships dissolve, only to find much more fulfilling relationships later.  I've know people who have lost their jobs, only to find much more fulfilling work somewhere down the road, after some important time for reflection that wouldn't have happened if they were still at their old jobs.

Right now in my decision-making process, I must try to be aware if I'm making decisions to keep myself "safe," or if I sincerely feel inside that I'm following the flow that life has prepared for me.  Am I motivated by fear, or am I looking objectively at the situation and trying to figure out what's truly best for me and my family?  Are we ready and willing to face a few obstacles--some possibly drastic--if I do make the choice that seems to be the one that makes the most sense in the long term?

"Let go and let God," or "Let go and let Life," or "Go with the flow."  They're all simple words, of course, and the advice sounds easy to follow, but we do have to figure out ways to deal with the interference that our minds plant in our way, and how to figure out exactly what is interference and what is truly helpful logic.


More on adversity.



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The art of living does not consist in preserving and clinging to a particular mode of happiness, but in allowing happiness to change its form without being disappointed by the change; happiness, like a child, must be allowed to grow up.

Charles L. Morgan

We Need to Know We Matter

We need to know that we matter in this life.  We need evidence that others are aware of our presence.  And thus, we can be certain that others need the same attention from us.  When we give it, we get it.  So the giving of attention to another searching soul meets our own need for attention as well.

Respectful recognition of another's presence blesses him or her, ourselves, and God.  And we help one another grow, in important ways, each time we pay the compliment of acknowledgement.

We're not sure, on occasion, just what we have to offer our friends, families, and co-workers.  Why we are in certain circumstances may have us baffled, but it's quite probably that the people we associate with regularly need something we can give them; the reverse is just as likely.  So we can begin with close attention to people in our path.  It takes careful listening and close observation to sense the message another soul may be sending to our own.


There are no seven wonders of the world in the eyes
of a child.  There are seven million.

Walt Streightiff




A new way of reading has been here for a while now.  And while we still love our books, if you're like many people, you get tired of lugging around the books that sometimes weigh more than anything else we carry.  Imagine carrying hundreds of books--novels, self-help, history, travel, you name it--and reading them comfortably on a no-glare screen, setting things like text size to your own preferences.  It's a great experience, and it's available to us now for less than the cost of ten books.  And there are plenty of free books to download, especially timeless classics--you can easily get enough free books to pay for the Kindle.  Give yourself the gift of wonderful literature that you can easily bring with you, wherever you go!

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