Happily Discontent

There is a poem by Rumi:  “One night a man was crying, Allah! Allah!  His lips grew sweet with the praising, until a cynic said, “So!  I have heard you calling out, but have you ever gotten any response?”  The man had no answer to that.  He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.  He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls, in a thick, green foliage.  “Why did you stop praising?”  “Because I’ve never heard anything back.”  “This longing you express is the return message.”  The grief you cry out from draws you toward union.  Your pure sadness that wants help is the secret cup.  Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.  That whining is the connection.  There are love dogs no one knows the names of.  Give your life to be one of them.”

Recently in an unnamed television series the protagonist asked a question of  the main character during a time when he was trying to influence him to do something he did not what to do and knew was wrong.  He asked him, “Do you want to live a life of happiness or a life of meaning?”  He went on to say, “If you want to live a life of happiness then live in the present moment all the time and never think of what has been or what will be, but if you want to live a life of meaning then you must live in discontent of the past and the future and be committed to change”.

The message of course was an either/or message as though there is some choice we must make about how we live our life.  Are we driven by the fires of discontent in our life?  Do we constantly want something different than what we have?  Do we want a better house, a nicer car, a better job, a better relationship, or are we satisfied with the status quo?  Is it possible for us to be happily discontented or are those two experiences mutually exclusive?  Personally I believe it is possible to be happy and discontent at the very same time, but it depends on us understanding that what warms you also can burn you if you are not respectful of the energy with which you are working. 

In the poem by Rumi there is a call to understanding that the desire of the soul is to understand our nature and embrace it with the passion of a love dog whining for its’ master.  Often in our work life we are serving a master of sorts, we call that our boss.  We find that the requirements of our work may include things we do not like to do.  The discontent may come from having to do the bidding of another and we are tempted to allow this to create angst.  My belief around this issue is that I have a choice in any moment how I can respond to the expectations of the world in which I live and in this context I chose to be in the present moment and feel a sense of peace that comes from knowing that I am OK in this moment.  I ask myself, “Do I have a roof over my head, do I have enough to eat, am I warm, is there enough for my basic needs?”  The answer is always “yes” and therefore I have no reason to be discontent in this moment.  I then ask myself, “what am I seeking to accomplish, what is the great good being served with this work, what if I am able to perform these expectations and feel good about it and even enjoy it, and where will this lead me?”  So in this present moment of peace comes the embracing of the discontent and the result is to live with one foot in both realities and to be happily discontent. 

            My friend Kari Joys in her book “Choosing Lightheartedness”(on Amazon or at www.kari-joys.com) identifies the primary positive emotions we feel which are happiness and peace.  All other positive feelings come out of these two basic ones.  When we choose to ground ourselves in these emotions in the moment, we can embrace the discontent and use it like we use fire to keep us warm.  We can have our dreams and goals and desires for the future and still live our life in the present moment of peace and happiness because life is not just about what you accomplish, it is about how you accomplish it.  It is about the values we bring into our daily experience that guide us on our journey to the fulfillment of our purpose. 

A few years ago about when I left my church to work full time for CHOICE I told my congregation that my discontent was not about them or the Church; it was about being called to something that I wasn’t sure about but knew it was part of my journey.  In other words I had nothing clear I could give them other than I knew it was the next step in my evolution as a person and in my desire to serve.  It felt a lot like the Indiana Jones movie where he had to step confidently onto a bridge that wasn’t there but appeared when he stepped out in faith that it would. 

Discontent is the fire that drives us forward, happiness and peace are the feelings that allow us to use the fire in ways that move us along so we can enjoy the journey toward the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams and our purpose in life.

Don’t Lose Your Thread

A Red Sox fan, an Angel’s fan, a Yankees fan, and a Mariners fan are climbing a mountain. On the way to the top, each is arguing about how loyal they are to their team and what they would do for that team. Upon reaching the top, the Red Sox fan shouts, “This is for the Red Sox!!!” and throw’s himself off the top of the mountain. Next the Angels fan yells, “I love L.A…..This is for you Angels!!” and he, too, jumps off. And then the Mariners fan reaches the top and screams, “This is for EVERYONE!!” and pushes the Yankee fan off the mountain.

The subject of my lesson today is loyalty, which I think is a very slippery topic because loyalty is not a quality to be used; rather it is an experience to be embraced.  Loyalty is not some intellectual decision to choose one thing over another; rather it is one of our most powerful and deepest expressions of divine love.  So many use loyalty as a tool to manipulate others and to create the conditions to take advantage of those who may not yet be aware of the true intent of this attribute.  In a political context the question often comes up about what it means to be loyal to our country.  Is agreement loyalty?  Is disagreement being disloyal?  Are we supposed to be loyal to our leaders or to our constitution?  Or in the context of our work when we see that something is wrong, what does it mean to be loyal?  Can you imagine the dilemma of one who has a job to support their family and sees his or her employer doing something wrong?  Who are they supposed to be loyal to?  It is not easy negotiating the minefield of loyalty because loyalty by its very nature is a choice.

I believe there is only one measure of loyalty that is important and if we are clear about what that is and we honor it in our life we will demonstrate the most profound aspects of what a blessing loyalty brings to our life and to the world.  Piero Ferrucci in The Power of Kindness says, “Let us imagine a person who is fully in contact with her own feelings and memories.  She did not accept blindly her ideas and principles, but gathered them bit by bit, by reflection and conscious choice.  She knows what really counts in her life and fights to achieve it.  She faces frustration and pain with courage.  Such a person has the prime material needed to be loyal.  She has substance.  To have substance is to recognize and respect the value we have inside us and to refuse to live a superficial life.”  He goes on to say, “We live in times of multiplied distractions and interruptions, and we live in times when our need to be faithful does not find expression in a relationship but is twisted and exploited for commercial ends.  It is a way of living in which we risk losing continuity of relations through time.  We lose the thread.  Loyalty is the exact opposite.  It is a ‘being with”, and it consists in keeping the thread, without allowing distraction or interruption to guide our lives.  It is honoring what counts most, and continuing to do so despite the obstacles.”

So the big question is, “How do you know what to be loyal to?”  If loyalty is the thread that weaves us into the full expression of courage, where do we direct that courage?  You see I believe loyalty is not so much about what we do, it is about the way we do it.  Those in leadership roles know that often decisions that need to be made will not be received well by some and may in fact hurt them.  So it isn’t necessarily the decision, it is really more often the way in which it is made and the willingness to be sensitive to the effect it has on others. 

First it deals with intention.  Is the intention of this pure and for the highest good of ALL?  That is the purity we are looking for and it is a quality that is critical in loyalty.  The second is, does it bring a sense of peace?  What would I need to do to feel a sense of peace?  Perhaps I would need to talk with others, get balanced feedback, and look people in the eye and tell them of this challenge?  Thirdly it is about being gentle which shows up in our words and actions.  To be gentle is to have a sensitiveness that is felt by others.  Gentleness is not weakness, it is respect for life made manifest.  Fourthly is this open to reason, such as am I doing this alone or am I being secretive?  If I can’t explain it clearly to others then how can it include reason?  For some reason leaders often feel the need for secrecy and isolation, which is really about fear and if there is fear there can be no reason.  The fifth characteristic is a sense of goodness, which are not always easy to discern. 

Think about the executive that is trying to make the choice between maximizing her stockholders dividends and cleaning up the pollution.  She looks at her bonus and realizes that spending money on pollution controls will not reflect well on paper, which is what the stockholders see.  She wants a healthy environment for herself and her kids and if she brings this up to her board and to the stockholders she may look like a fool.  What does it mean to be loyal?  Since leadership is about influence, she decides to be loyal to both the environment and the stockholders by an honest and clear evaluation and presentation of the problem as an opportunity to position the company for long-term growth and customer loyalty.  She may or may not be successful, but she has been loyal to her values and may chose to leave the company if the company’s values do not align with hers.  Finally the last quality deals with certainty for to act in this context is to act with certainty. 

Do you know that one of the greatest joys of our life is the journey of loyalty?  To be loyal to our values and a clear process is to be free of much of the storm around us.  To learn to listen and discern what our heart tells us is right and then to act with a purity and gentleness that reflects what is good in the world is a gift. 

See Me

            In the work we do with seniors and their families there are some important contributions we can make to the betterment and well-being of those we serve.  One of those contributions is the willingness to really see who it is that we are helping.  There is a tendency in our work to categorize people and forget that these souls we are helping are people with lives, with history’s, and with a story.  One of the greatest needs we have is to just be seen.  To know that someone really sees who we are, and gets in some way the life we have lived.  Think about it for a moment and you will likely realize that it is true for all of us.  We want our spouses or partners to see us, acknowledge us, and understand as best they can who we are as a human being and partner in life.  Sometimes in the midst of our busyness we simply forget to stop and really check in and connect with those in our lives.  The following is a powerful true story about what happens when we are not seen and what happens when we are seen.

Not long ago a teacher in New York decided to honor her students by telling them the difference each of them has made.  She called each student to the front of the class one at a time.  First she told each of them how they had made a difference to her and the class.  Then she presented to each of them a blue ribbon imprinted with gold letters which read, “Who I am makes a difference”.  Afterwards the teacher decided to do a class project to see what kind of impact recognition would have on a community.  She gave each of the students three more ribbons and instructed them to go out and spread the acknowledgement ceremony.  Then they were to follow up on the results and see who honored whom and report to the class in about a week.

One of the boys in the class went to a junior executive in a nearby company and honored him for helping him with his career planning.  He gave him a blue ribbon and put it on his shirt.  He gave him two extra ribbons and said, “We are doing a class project on recognition and we would like you to go out and find someone to honor and give them a blue ribbon.”  Later that day the junior executive went into see his boss who had a reputation of being a kind of grouchy fellow.  He told him that he deeply admired him for being a creative genius.  The boss seemed very surprised. The junior executive asked him if he would accept the gift of the blue ribbon and give him permission to put it on him.  His boss said, “Well sure” and the junior executive took one of the blue ribbons and placed it right on the boss’s jacket above his heart.  Then he asked offering him the last ribbon, “Would you take this extra ribbon and pass it on by honoring somebody else.  The teenager who gave me this ribbon is doing a school project and we want to keep this ribbon ceremony going to see how it affects people.”

That night the boss came home and sat down with his 14 year old son.  He said, “The most incredible thing happened to me today.  I was in my office and one of my employees came in and told me he admired me, and gave me a blue ribbon for being a creative genius.  Imagine, he thinks I am a creative genius!  Then he put a blue ribbon on me that says ‘Who I am makes a difference’.  He gave me an extra ribbon and asked me to find someone else to honor.  As I was driving home tonight I started thinking about who I would honor with this ribbon and I thought about you, I want to honor you.  My days are hectic and when I come home I don’t pay a lot of attention to you.  I yell at you for not getting good enough grades and for your messy bedroom.  Somehow tonight I wanted to sit here and well just let you know that you do make a difference to me.  Besides your mother you are the most important person in my life, you’re a great kid and I Love You.”  The startled boy started to sob and sob and he couldn’t stop crying.  His whole body shook.  He looked up at his father and said through his tears, “Dad earlier tonight I sat in my room and wrote a letter to you and mom explaining why I had taken my life, and I asked you to forgive me.  I was going to commit suicide tonight after you were asleep.  I just didn’t think you cared at all.  The letter is upstairs; I don’t think I need it after all.”  His father walked upstairs and found a heartfelt letter full of anguish and pain.

The boss went back to work a changed man, he was no longer a grouch and he made sure to let his employees know that they made a difference.  The junior executive helped many other young people with career planning, one being the boss’s son and never forgot to let them know that they made a difference in his life.  In addition the young man and his classmates learned a valuable lesson.

We never know when the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life will show up.  Next time you are helping a senior or distressed family member, take time to just see them and affirm what a difference they are making in their parent’s life.  Or a senior who is in the midst of change, take a moment and just see beyond the fear, the hurt and the frustration to the heart of this being who has lived a long life.  Everyone needs to feel valued and when we value others we value ourselves because we do make a difference.

Celebrating Each Day

          A professor stood before his Philosophy 101 class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.  The professor then picked up a jar of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly.  The pebbles, of course, rolled into the open spaces between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.  The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar and of course the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous yes.  The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and proceeded to pour the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. The students laughed.  “Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.  The golf balls are the important things – your family, your partner, your health, your children, your friends and your favorite passions – things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.  “The pebbles are the other things that matter, like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else – the small stuff.  If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for your life.  If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.  Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your partner out dancing. Play another 18.  There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, give a dinner party and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first-the things that really matter.  Set your priorities.  The rest is just sand.”  One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled.  “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.” 

          Have you ever sat down and made a list of what is really important to you, the things, the experiences and the people which make your life meaningful?  Life is about meaning making in the context of our daily experiences.  When we get out of bed in the morning we never really know what this day or even the next moment holds.  Sometimes when things are smooth and I am feeling in control of my life–which I know is an illusion–I won’t open the mail or answer the phone because I don’t want anything to affect the peace I am experiencing in that moment.  I know it is a bad attempt to hold on to that which cannot be held on to, because a moment is simply a moment and each moment has its own quality and texture, and the very fact I project the disturbance of my peace, it disturbs my peace.  Thomas Moore in Care of the Soul says, “One of the symptoms of modern soullessness (alienation from nature and things as well as from our fellow human beings) might be overcome if we took time with whatever we are dealing with.”  He tells of an airline executive who came to him for counseling,  the executive was having a struggle about deciding which of two jobs to take which had opened up for him.  One was full of prestige and power, while the other was comfortable and quite ordinary.  The first he felt he should consider because it was highly prized among his peers, but his thoughts of it were at best dry.  The second one he imagined all day long.  In his mind he had already begun to design his office and set his schedule.  From the richness of his imagination, it was quite clear that the lowlier job appealed to his soul.

          When we think of what it means to be great or to experience “Greatness” in the circumstances of our life we often think about achievement, acknowledgement, power, wealth and legacies.  We don’t often think about how greatness shows up in the moment or in the little things or in the important things as represented by the golf balls.  There is a story about a woman whose fiancée had planned a lavish wedding reception at a Boston hotel.  The day the invitations were mailed the groom-to-be backed out and spurned the bride.  She contacted her guests and then went to the hotel to get her 50% deposit back on the dinner.  The hotel policy was to refund only $1,300 of the deposit.  In her past she struggled financially and she didn’t want to waste the money.  She had a choice, she could either feel sorry for herself or she could celebrate her good new beginning as a woman who was healthy, financially secure and free of a man who clearly was lousy husband material.  So she decided to celebrate this day and have a big party.  She changed the main course to “boneless chicken” to honor the groom.  She sent invitations to homeless shelters, rescue missions and senior citizen homes.  They came to the Hyatt and were served hors d’oeuvres by waiters in black tie.  Vagrants, bag ladies, addicts took one night off from the hard life and feasted on chocolate wedding cake.  Everyone danced to big-band melodies late into the night.  She went home that night with a partner who would never jilt her – herself as she discovered the inner resource to face her difficulty.

The Sandwich Experience

            The other day while out with 2 sisters and a brother who were looking for options for their elderly mother, one of the sisters started sharing with me how challenging it is to be dealing with a very needy and stubborn parent on one side, and trying to meet the needs of her younger children on the other.  I smiled and welcomed her to “The Sandwich Experience”.

            It’s a wonderful thing to be needed and wanted by our families, but even that has its challenges.  In 2004 my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and my then father-in-law was struggling with the effects of diabetes.  He was staring down the barrel of a possible amputation of his foot  and leg because of circulation issues not to mention he had just survived cancer and a heart valve replacement.  In addition I had two children, one who was in high school and the other about to enter high school, not to mention two older childeren living close by and two grandchildren ages 8 and 4.  Over the following four years I had a firsthand experience of what it means to be the proverbial meat in a multi-generational sandwich, with very needy parents on one side and the normal needs of teenage children and grandchildren on the other.  This is not an unusual experience for my generation, a generation whose parents are living longer and who have children later in life. 

            During that period, a huge portion of my time and energy was about negotiating the issues of care for parents who wanted to make their own decisions and were often resistant to good advice, which is actually a very common experience in dealing with frail elders.  Because my father-in-law was in skilled nursing and my parents finally agreed to move to assisted living, we ended up managing two empty homes, one in Chicago and one in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  This is not an experience that we had ever expected doing nor is it one that any of us thinks we will have to deal with in our life.  In March of 2007 my father-in-law passed on, in June my Son graduated from High School, in October my Father died, and in June of 2008 my mother passed and finally in June of 2009 my daughter graduated from High School.  As I reflect back on my experience, I am not sure that I could have done much differently, nor do I have any regrets, but I wish there would have been more obvious support in the journey of helping our frail elderly parents. 

            What I know is that most parents do not want to be a burden to their children, especially when their children have such busy lives and demands on their time and attention.  I also know that most children want to be helpful to their parents in their time of need and struggle with how to accomplish that and keep sanity in their life.  If you think about the absurdity of the dynamic created you end up realizing that you have the paradox of an irresistible force competing with an immovable object, or at least that is what it seems like.  Parents need help but don’t want it, their adult children want to help but have very little time and flexibility, and neither really knows what is going on and where this is going to end up.  I remember looking at a very nice assisted living community for my parents and thinking that I was the one that needed the help with meals and housekeeping.  What a recipe for frustration on everyone’s part.

            I believe that negotiating this path of service to our parents and our children is really the calling of our better angels to do our own inner work and to trust that there is a reason we are in the experience.  Remember very few people in previous generations had this experience because their parents did not live as long and their children were grown up by the time their grandparents needed attention.  So we must realize that we have very little previous experience to inform our journey through this part of our lives.  We also find that whatever dynamic that has existed in our relationship with our parents, it is going to be magnified.  I remember my then wife sitting with her father and deciding to confront him with some childhood abuse issues concerning his drinking and violence.  Her father was often quite violent to her mother and brother and she often lived in fear of him during her childhood.  He was the life of the party to everyone else, but hell on wheels when it came to his family.  When she brought the subject up he simply didn’t remember and was surprised.  It occurred to her that it was possible he didn’t remember much because he was drunk most of the time.   Although she didn’t get any acknowledgement or apology, she did get an understanding and awareness that it was up to her to heal that issue in her consciousness and as a result she was able to gain some necessary perspective.  She finally realized that she could not change the past; she could only accept it and put it in its proper context and understanding. 

            We both learned a great deal by taking the time to talk with our parents in constructive ways.  Because of the time I spent with them I learned so much I never would have otherwise known about my childhood, and why certain things were the way the way they were, and it has made a big difference in my own personal life.  This would not have happened had their need for help not been there.  

             There are a few things we can be aware of when we find ourselves in the middle of a sandwich:

  1. This experience is for our own and our families greater good.
  2. There are opportunities to work out issues with our parents.
  3. We may be creating good energy for our own elderly years.
  4. There is help, often free help in walking this path.
  5. We are not alone; there are many others who are walking this path.
  6. It is a privilege to be in a position to make a positive difference in anyone’s life.

               If you know of someone who is going through this experience, try and be supportive of them and offer to help them in some meaningful way.  As I personally look back on my experience, I appreciate all the people who were there to help and I am grateful for the many moments with my parents that happened in the journey to the end of their life. 

When it is Time to Give Up!

So here we are again, it is the Holiday Season and whether you are celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, the Solstice, New Year’s or you are not celebrating anything at all, you can’t help but be caught up in the dynamics that exist as we close out the year.  There is lots of stress, pressure, expectations, expense and it all can be overwhelming at times.  There have been years when I have resisted the energy field of the holiday season, and it wasn’t a lot of fun.  Over the years I have come to realize that there is something I can do that makes a difference not only during this time of year, but in general in my own life.  Something that I can do whenever I feel the stress and pull of life’s challenges, difficulties and expectations.     

There is one thing that brings peace, one thing that allows me to get along, one thing that transforms any given moment, one thing that brings me happiness, and that one thing is to know when to give up.  That’s right; I think the most profound act of giving is the act of giving up.  Yet giving up is not part of our culture, a culture that is into victory, winning, overcoming, persistence, and conquering.  It is the mindset that victory is our road to happiness and conquering our perceived enemies is the key to success.  Part of the problem is that we equate “giving up” with losing and none of us want to be a loser.  In The Power of Giving,  by Azim Jamal and Harvey McKinnon they say, “Do you want to find more meaning, fulfillment, and abundance in your life?  Try giving.  Also, try giving up.” 

The authors of the book suggest giving up things that interfere with our giving such as all the things which eat up our time and our energy.  Their focus is to create more time to give of ourselves, and they are right.  If we watch less TV, shop less, spend less time on the internet, be less judgmental, etc. we will have more time and energy to give to those things which are important.  Over the last several years I have given up making comparisons or thinking that somehow someone is better or worse than me.  I have given up thinking that I can control all the events and circumstances that exist in my life.  I have given up making the desires of my human self the object of my life.  I have given up trying to get others to do what I think they should do, I have given up thinking that it is all about me, I have given up my definitions of prosperity, happiness, love, and what it means to live a successful life.  The Truth is I honestly don’t know really what is success or failure, because we can never fully know on a human intellectual level if we have met our life purpose at any given time?   That doesn’t mean I don’t have desires, goals and objectives, it means that I have given up trying to make them happen and moved into the space of making room for them to happen.

I have to tell you it takes far more courage and fortitude to give up than it does to try and do it all ourselves.  It takes patience, it takes wisdom, it takes confidence, and it also takes for many the process of being backed against the wall of human failure, frustration, and helplessness to finally be willing to give it up.   To give up the struggle, to give up the fight, to give up the arrogance that is of the ego and that says “it is all about me”.  The greater Truth in my mind is that it is not about me rather it is all for me, for the greater good. 

Most parents know what it means to give up because the process of raising children to maturity is the process of giving up.  We constantly have to give up our need or desire to control our children’s lives.  For example, my daughter Caroline during her first year at the University of Idaho came home to visit on a Labor Day weekend.  She arrived home at about 6:30 pm on a Friday night and by 7:00 pm she had taken her mom’s car and went to her former High School’s football game to see her friends.  The next morning I was eating breakfast and at about 8:00 am the car pulls in the driveway and Caroline walks in the house.  Clearly she had been out all night and my first instinct was to get in her face, you know the drill.  In that moment I suddenly realized that it was time to “Give Up” so I said nothing.  Later that day I learned that she had stayed over at her best friend’s house and had gotten up early and came home because she was worried her mom would need the car.  The truth is she was being responsible not irresponsible. It was time for dad to give it up and give her room to find her way.  That in no way means I am compromising my intentions for her to mature into adult hood, it means I am giving up trying to control the process knowing that I have done my part. 

Many of you who work with seniors and the elderly, and if there is one thing that determines whether someone ages gracefully it is the ability to give up what needs to be given up at the right time.  Those who don’t are often miserable, and those who do have a lot more fun and joy in their later years.  Some say aging is the process of giving up, giving up our ability to do many of the things we have enjoyed, giving up our home of so many years, giving up so many possessions, giving up friends who pass on, and ultimately giving up our own bodies.  But when we are able to give up we end up opening up to a greater good that is there for us.    

So this holiday season give yourself the gift of giving up and in doing so see if something quite amazing occurs.  See how peaceful you feel, and how much more fun you can have in the craziness of this unique time of the year.  Happy Holidays.

Serious Fun

A man who thought he was John the Baptist was disturbing the neighborhood, so for public safety, he was committed. He was put in a room with another person who had recently been committed, and immediately began his routine, “I am John The Baptist! Jesus Christ has sent me!” The other guy looked at him and declared, “I did not!”

It is not in my nature to dwell on the ridged, serious side of our life experience.  Although I respect and give attention to as well as somber recognition and respect of life’s hurts, challenges, tragedy’s and struggles; I also recognize the importance of seeing them through the eyes of a light heart and a sense of humor knowing that in so many challenging situations we end up laughing about them at some point in our life.  Having had some perspective on past circumstances I often wonder what it would be like to be able to genuinely see the humor while in the middle of them?  In Proverbs 17:22 it says, “A merry heart does good like a medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones”.

In an article on Pulmonary Rehabilitation a nurse tells the story of a 60-year-old man who had a valve replacement and although he was recovering he was depressed.  He wasn’t eating, sleeping or willing to walk.  All he did was wear his pajamas and sit.  They couldn’t seem to do anything to help him.  One day while on the treadmill in his pajamas, (which hung loosely on his hips after having lost 25 lbs.) his bottoms suddenly slipped and fell around his ankles. The nurses immediately ran to help him and quickly turned off the treadmill.  He stood there for a moment and looked down and then looked at them with their worried faces and immediately started laughing. 

The nurse said that the situation reminded her of a line from a poem that went; “”Its easy enough to smile when the world goes round and round but the man worthwhile is the man who can smile when his pants are falling down.”  She said it was from that moment that his recovery really began, and it wasn’t long before he returned to an active life.

Living a principle based life and a life of joy, humor, fun, excitement, and adventure are not mutually incompatible.  A principle-based life is one that is lived in an awareness and experience that there are Universal Principles and Laws that we can use to build our consciousness and govern the effects that we form in our lives.  Sounds very serious and complicated, but the Truth is that we only see that because we are conditioned to think of personal growth as something very serious – and it is serious, but it can also be fun. 

One of the most healing moments that can occur at Funerals or Memorial Services is when someone gets up and tells a funny story regarding the deceased.  When it is tastefully done you can feel the pallor that is present begin to lift and the recognition that we can laugh even in face of loss.  Mark Twain once wrote, “The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that’s laughter.  The moment it arises, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.” 

I often have this image that in the afterlife, we are sitting around laughing about all the screw-ups we experienced in our human life.  We are not laughing at each other, we are laughing with each other because we recognize just how silly we were and how much we were caught up with thinking that it was reality. 

Negative emotions are only bad because we get lost in them.  Anger, fear, Jealousy, resentments, are simply tools to the human condition that when placed in contrast to our joy, love, peace, and happiness allow us to experience all of life.  Imagine in a moment of jealousy you are able to recognize that this experience is not the truth of who you are.  You laugh and begin to consider the Truth, the principle that is seeking clarification.  Jealousy represents a sense of insecurity in the person feeling jealous. 

In principle we are never less than or separate from the life and energy and love that is present in us and all around us.  The principle here is that nothing can separate me from my good because my good is not depended on another, my good is within me.  It doesn’t mean we condone another’s dysfunctional behavior or ignore it, it means we get in relationship to it based on an expanded awareness of the underlying principle. 

There is something magical about someone who is comfortable in their own skin and does not need to control others.  There is nothing more fun than living in the place of peace and joy and in seeing the process of life in all areas as a divinely orchestrated experience.  

We might feel fear at political changes around us regardless of what side of the aisle we might be on, but when we live in principle our fear becomes a source of positive energy that ignites positive responses.  You see we don’t laugh at another’s misfortune; we laugh at our own response to the way life shows up.  Isn’t it easier to forgive when we see the humor in our side of the situation? 

Freud said, “Like wit and the comic, humor has a liberating element. It is the triumph of narcissism, the ego’s victorious assertion of its own invulnerability. It refuses to suffer the slings and arrows of reality.”  It doesn’t change what is going on as much as it changes our response to what is going on and when we change our response to what is going on we end up changing what is going on.


Welcome to Choice Moments Blog

Welcome to Choice Moments where we are about the business of happiness.  The premise is that happiness is not the product of but the cause of success in our daily life.  I know of a lot of people who are successful in their work but they are not happy, but I know of none who are happy and who lack the experience of success. This blog is about finding happiness and as a result finding success in every area of our life.

My name is Stephen Towles and currently I am a Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) for Choice Advisory Services Inc.  I help frail elders and their families find appropriate housing and care when needed for themselves or their elderly loved ones.  As a result I am working with people from all walks of life who are from different cultures, nationalities, backgrounds, and circumstances.  I work with people who are financially successful and people who are not.  I interact daily with people who work in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, assisted living communities, memory care communities, doctors, nurses, pastors, attorney’s, social workers, marketers, executive directors, and adult family home owners.  I also work frequently with family dynamics in families who are dealing with dysfunction to find a path of agreement in support of an elderly loved one. 

My journey includes ordination as a Unity Minister and subsequently 26 years of service as a senior minister of 4 different churches in California, Nevada, and Seattle Washington.  I am certificated in peacemaking for the Association of Unity Churches and have facilitated the healing of congregations in conflict in the US and Canada. In addition I am the father of 4 children and 2 grandchildren.

This blog is intended to be a series of lessons to help people understand the power of moment to moment living in creating a sense of happiness and fulfillment in their daily lives.  Regardless of our occupation or profession, when we are happy and fulfilled we bring a sense of success into our work.  We are healthier, friendlier, more consistent, more teachable, more creative, more courageous, and have more fun in our work and our play.  Our relationships come easier, our love life is more fulfilling, and the bumps and bruises of life are less intense and more purposeful then ever before.  The poet David Whyte once said, “The cure for exhaustion is not rest, the cure for exhaustion is whole-heartedness”.  In other-words, when we engage in life with our heart and we do that which fulfills our heart, we have energy that we never dreamed possible and happiness is ours.  

Please join me for an ongoing journey of learning and growing.  I fully recognize that I am not just the teacher but also the student of the many who can share their own stories on this path of life lessons.