Category Archives: Discipline

2014: My Year of Good Cheer

2014 marks the sixth year I have named my years. It provides an interesting focus for me throughout the year as I remind myself (via a post it note on my desktop) my name for the year and gives me something to live up to. To strive for.

2009 was The Year of Hesed (lovingkindness)

2010: The Year of the Tao

2011: The Year of Living Simply

2012: The Year of Forgiveness

2013: The Year of Living Sustainably

2014: The Year of Good Cheer

Have I achieved any goals with these years? I don’t set out any goals, per se, it is just a reminder of ways in which I can adjust my thinking.

In The Urantia Book (a spiritual endeavor that I have studied since the early 1970s), whenever Jesus encountered one of his disciples, the first words out of his mouth were: “Be of good cheer!” This is in the Bible, too, John 16:33.

Words to live by, those. What good does it do us to be critical, to add negative thought-energy into the world, to hate, hold resentments, argue, and live our lives in cynicism?

Why not be happy? Happiness is a choice. Only we can choose whether or not to be happy. No one on earth can make us happy if we do not want to be. Conversely, nobody can make us feel bad if happiness is our chosen state of being.

Only we can choose to put cynicism aside. Only we can choose to focus on the right side, the light side, the good side of things instead of the ugly. Only we can choose to see the successes in apparent failures, to view the future with excitement instead of dread, to banish depression and decide to be of good cheer.

I was privileged to deliver a sermon last summer, the topic of which was how we can change the world with our thoughts.

It starts with a single decision to lighten the world with positive thoughts, thoughts of happiness and gratitude and love and light. There are enough people who add the darkness to fabric of planetary thought with their thoughts of greed and anger and me-first-ness.

It is a mighty challenge to change the balance from dark to light, but we can do it, one day at a time, one person at a time, just by being of good cheer.

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Filed under Discipline, goals, Goodness, Joy, peace, Possibilities, Social Consciousness, Spirituality, The Urantia Book, Uncategorized, years

2012: The Year of Forgiveness

I’ve been naming my years for a while now. 2009 was The Year of Hesed (lovingkindness).2010 was The Year of the Tao. 2011 was The Year of Living Simply, and for 2012, I’ve chosen The Year of Forgiveness.

I’ve heard that to forgive someone means to merely allow them their path. Very simple, and my experience says that what is simple is best.

Many years ago, I hurt a lot of people who got caught up in my tsunami of self-destruction. I am soul-sorry about that, and everyone that I’m aware of has forgiven me for my actions during those dark times, for which I will be eternally grateful. I needed those times; they were a part of my path to today. Surely I can allow someone else their path.

I find that it’s easier to forgive someone the big transgressions, but what about the guy who cuts me off in traffic? I am usually outwardly calm, but in my head, I’m screaming: “You idiot!” I really don’t want to do that any more, so I’m going to stop it in 2012. I’m going to let the little things flow over me, making “allow them their path” my mantra for the year.

And I’m going to forgive myself, too, on a daily basis, for being imperfect and doing all the stupid things I do. I say the wrong thing all the time, I eat the wrong things, I still am tempted to slide into old behavior patterns. I no longer burn with resentment, but I can chew on a good one for a while before letting it go. I don’t want to do that any more, either, and so I won’t in 2012. Forgiveness is sustainable; resentment is not.

Living consciously is a decision. Each of us is faced with a million tiny decisions every day as to how to react to a million tiny situations. So in 2012, I will react with love in my heart and the perspective that while we all might be on different paths, the goal is the same.

I have a good feeling about what 2012 has to bring.

Happy New Year!

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Filed under Discipline, Learning, peace, Possibilities, relationships, Resentment, Social Consciousness, Spirituality, Sustainability, years

Lighting the Creative Fire

Today a student of mine called to say that she just sold her novel to a major New York publishing house. She was having a celebration and would I please come.

Ah, the rewards of teaching.

As a published novelist, I know, like perhaps nobody else in her immediate universe, what it means to get a book contract. I know the heartache and the angst and the Himalayan-size obstacles to overcome to get a good story down in 120,000 words, find agency representation and get a publishing contract. I can celebrate with her on a sub-atomic level. And I will.

The interesting thing to me is that to her, my novel writing classes are all about her story. She focuses on her story, she works on her story, she does the homework using her book as her class project. And so it is with all of my students. To them, the class is all about them.

But I know the truth. I am the teacher, and as much as they think they learn in my classes, nobody learns as much as I do. My goal is to light their fire, to give them a taste, to prod them to learn more on their own. But they each challenge me every single day to new insights about my own craft.

I’m sure they think that after many books and short stories and more than a decade of teaching the basic elements, I know everything there is to know about the craft. But writing fiction is more than craft; it is engaging in fearless, relentless introspection, and there are always more layers to peel back, more depths to plumb, more insights to be had. And always, new techniques to try. 

One of the things a fiction writer must study in depth is the motivation of their characters, and while the characters I devise are not me, they are of me. Their motivations come from thoughts, feelings, attitudes, longings and imaginings I’ve had. So then, one must ask now and then, what is my motivation for doing what I do on a daily basis? Why do I teach fiction?

First, and most obvious, I enjoy hanging out with other writers. Many of those who take my classes don’t even consider themselves writers because they’re either not published or they’re not accomplished, but being a writer is more than that. It’s a state of mind, a curiosity of being. I can be my socially-inappropriate self with a bunch of other social inappropriates. It’s fun.

Second, it’s their job to challenge me, and they’re very good at it. When I stand in front of a class, I set the tone. If I’m enthusiastic and animated, asking questions and giving meaty information, they’re taking notes like mad, having insights about their own books and their own selves, and the questions start to come. Many times I can see they’re surprised by their own questions. Many times they begin by saying, “I’m not sure how to phrase this,” or “I don’t even know what it is I’m trying to ask,” and then they go on to ask a question that gives me pause and makes me search the mental databank. Many times I’ll alter whole areas of my syllabus because of one student’s question. Many times I’ll go home and try out what they were asking about, to see if it works, to see if it’s valid, to see if I can do it, to see if it makes sense.

Invariably, it does. And when that happens, I give a hoot and scare the dog, and my craft has just taken a monumental leap forward, out of my practiced tedium and into new unexplored areas.

So I’m going to go have coffee and cake with the Woman of the Hour, the new author, and I will hear her give me some kind of credit—but I know the truth.

The credit all goes to her, because she is the one who made it happen.

I just let her teach me about it on her way.

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Filed under Discipline, dreams, Learning, Possibilities, Writing

All About Stress

I read some interesting things about stress yesterday.

First, it shortens your life. Duh.

But the interesting thing this report said is that your body constantly lives in the now. If your mind lived in the now, there would be no stress, no conflict, no tension.

I’ve always thought that we control our own level of stress, but I’ve never considered it to be this simple an equation before. If my mind is too busy thinking about what just happened or what might happen, then I feel stress, as my body is trying to pull me back to the present moment, which is where I ought to be anyway, paying attention and appreciating my life. The further into my history I dwell, or the further into the future, the more stress I feel.

Knowing the source of the stress/tension should make it easier to correct.

Another reason to live in the now.

In gratitude.

One day at a time.

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Filed under Discipline, peace, Possibilities, relationships, Spirituality, Stress, Twelve Steps

Rightmindedness

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to that word: Rightmindedness.

We have a thousand opportunities every day to choose our mindset. If we get our minds right, we can choose happiness, joy, freedom, love, light, loyalty, sunshine.

Or, if something we don’t like happens, we can allow it to color our whole day, our month, our year.  A moment’s temptation can throw us off a diet, for example, and in a few days, all the good hard work that’s been done is erased. Or, we could choose to not let that happen. We could choose to put our minds right again, and not let a small slip throw our world into chaos.

The same goes for fear and anxiety. We can let it run our lives, or we can live with self-forgiveness and let old conflicts go. When new situations arise, we have the power to choose our reaction to them. If we behave ourselves, what do we care if others misbehave?

I read an article about how human minds seek out similarities. We like finding coincidences. We match up things that go together. We say things like: He looks just like so-and-so, except for…”  And that also goes for series of events. In one day, we could have a flat tire, have to wait so long at a professional’s office that we miss another appointment, get some bad news and have to deal with a miscommunication. Each of those things has the potential to ruin our day, if we let it, especially if we run down the litany of everything that went wrong to the spouse or loved one.

Instead, we should run down all the great things that happened. All the miracles that we’ve bunched together, all the coincidences, all the moments of synchronicity and delight. All the good things that people did for us, all the nice things people said about each other.

We’re not in control of much in our lives, but we are in control of our attitude. I know people who are negative, and I know people who are positive. I’d rather hang with the positive folks. The socially fragrant ones help me enjoy life.

I’m working on getting my mind right, one decision at a time, because that will make life a lot more fun. And it will also make the world a better place.

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Filed under Beauty, connections, Discipline, Friends, Fun, goals, Goodness, Honesty, Joy, peace, Personalities, regrets, relationships, Spirituality

Who’s to Blame?

I heard this on television the other day: All the oil that has spewed forth into the Gulf of Mexico to date equals what the US burns in one hour.

I also heard this: While the US comprises 2% of world population, we consume 25% of the world’s energy resources.

I do not vouch for those statistics, although I don’t doubt their validity.

My point is this: We are quick to vilify British Petroleum, but they are only doing what we asked them to do. More oil, please, and make it quick. My car is thirsty. I have to fly to Europe for a wine tasting.  I’m moving to the country, so my kids can breathe clean air, even though now my commute is a gasoline-guzzling hour and a half every day.

There’s no question that BP was horrendously irresponsible and unforgivably lax in their safety measures. I am not absolving them of their heinous actions. But we need to take a very close look at our own culpability in this mess.

Americans don’t like regulations, because we want our freedoms. Well, we have the freedom to be irresponsible about our oil consumption, just like we have the freedom to be irresponsible about our personal debt, our birth rate, and our health. What’s it going to take for us to use less energy? Government rationing?  Enormous taxes on petroleum products?

Well, we’re going to have to change our lifestyles, because oil is a finite commodity. Doesn’t anybody realize that there are only 15,500 days left to the END of oil? (www.worldometers.info) And that is at today’s rate of consumption, but at a net population gain of around 175,000 people per day, what are the chances of that?

Who are we going to blame when the oil is gone? Or, since I’ll be dead in fewer than 15,500 days, what do I care? It’ll be someone else’s problem then. Well, of course I care, and so should you. Stop looking at BP and start looking at yourself.

If we are unable or unwilling to control our gluttony, then perhaps it’s time for someone else to regulate our behavior.  And when that day comes, we’ll have nobody to blame but ourselves.

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Filed under Discipline, Social Consciousness

Aren’t We Lucky?

I grew up in a white, middle-class neighborhood. My dad had a good job; my mom was a homemaker, I have one brother and one sister, we had a dog and a cat, two cars and a house with a nice lawn. We went to the lake in the summer. 

All through my childhood, I was told how lucky I was. How privileged. How grateful I should be that I wasn’t born in a desolate, disease-ridden part of the world, to poor parents, starving, uneducated. And I was grateful. I still am grateful.

But that’s not enough any more. I have come to believe that The Powers That Be knew of my gifts and talents long before I was born and they put me into a privileged situation so that I wouldn’t have to scrape for food on a daily basis, but instead could be free to contemplate how best to utilize my gifts and talents to serve those less fortunate. 

I wish this had been the message given to me my whole life. I would have structured things differently, voted differently, allocated resources differently, written about different things, put my energies into different endeavors. I have come to believe that the celestial advisors are looking to me — and you — to see what we have done with the incredible opportunities we have been given. Do we use our intellect and our wealth for altruistic purposes? Or does it just fuel our greed? Are we miserly with our resources, or generous? Are we happy, joyous and free? Or bitchy and miserable to be around?

I look around and I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. People who profess their faith are not acting accordingly. How can we let people starve? How can we let people die for lack of medicine, or mosquito netting over their beds? How can we recklessly squander our resources and then look to those who have marshalled their resources wisely to save us?

How can we send our young people off to war?

Really. We’re sending people off to war?

Shouldn’t we be a little further along than this?

I’m searching my soul today, considering what I can do to uplift the terribly sad state of our world. If I listen carefully, I’m certain I’ll hear a suggestion that I can accomplish today. One small person doing one small thing of faith, for the betterment of my spiritual brothers and sisters.  And if you do one small thing, too, that would double my efforts.

Eventually, we could have ten billion small people doing ten billion small things for each other. Every day. Don’t you think that would make a difference?

Let’s do it.

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Filed under disappointment, Discipline, dreams, Possibilities, Social Consciousness, Spirituality