Sunday, February 22, 2015

15 Creative Goals in 2015

I've been thinking about what I want to learn and do in terms of my creative goals in 2015. Although almost two months have already passed, there's still ten months ahead to incorporate more creative time in my life.

During 2015, I want to:

1. Learn how to do fused glass.


2. Do glass blowing.
3. How to build a portable brick oven so I can create homemade pizzas and breads in it during the summer.
4. Finish all the WIP (works in progress) in the bin.
5. Go through all the fabric bins and donate what I no longer like or want.
6. Use the bag of felted wool to make a project (or two).
7. Learn 3 new crocheting stitches.
8. Make a pair of socks using the sock loom.


9. Learn to knit and make something useful.
10. Use some of Dad's clothes and make legacy gifts to give to Mom, Mary, Jim, and me.
11. Do two upcycled crafts that use jeans.
12. Make six handmade cards using inspiration from other DIY cards.
13. Make three homemade bath products.
14. Paint and install a barn quilt.


15. Make something for the next door neighbor's daughter who is expecting her first child this spring, and who has a baby shower in March.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Compassion

This is the third focus of the "Spiritual Practices A to Z" challenge that I'm doing that is based on the spiritual practices that are shared on the Spirituality & Practice website. So far I have focused on Attention and Beauty. For the past two weeks, I focused on the spiritual practice of Compassion.

Sophia helping Darlene frost and decorate cookies
for Valentine's Day at the nursing home.
(Taken on February 13, 2015)

Spiritual Practice: Compassion
Enhances: Caring
Balances/Counters: Judgment, Pain

The Basic Practice

Compassion is a feeling deep within ourselves and a way of acting — being affected by the suffering of others and moving on their behalf. Buddha and Jesus are the two most well-known exemplars of compassion, and it is the central ethical virtue in the two religions that developed from their teachings.

Olivia helping Annabelle at the Valentine's Day 
cookie decorating activity at 
the nursing home on February 13, 2015.

As the Spiritual Practices website said, "The spiritual practice of compassion is often likened to opening the heart. First, allow yourself to be feel the suffering in the world, including your own. Don't turn away from pain; move toward it with caring. Go into situations where people are hurting. Identify with your neighbors in their distress. Then expand the circle of your compassion to include other creatures, nature, and the inanimate world."

Sophia tuning her harp in preparation for 
our time at Northwoods Humane Society.
We are starting to do music therapy for the animals 
who are waiting to be adopted there 
which has been very rewarding. 
This is Bridgett listening to Sophia.
(February 13, 2015.)

Why This Practice May Be For You

The practice of compassion increases our capacity to care. It reinforces empathy, sympathy, and charity.

Laurie, My Parents, Me, and Belinda on Red Day
On May 12, 2011, over 30 volunteers from 
Keller Williams in Maple Grove came to 
my parents home to help them with outdoor work 
as well as making their home safe indoors. 
This was for their annual Red Day (volunteer day). 
The volunteers had such great attitudes and 
worked through the pouring rain. 
My parents are so happy - and thankful - that they were chosen to 
receive all the help and improvements to their home. 
Why were they selected? 
Keller Williams was looking for families 
who have made a difference in the community.
My dad was in the very advanced stages of  Alzheimer's Disease, and
my mom had significant mobility and other health issues.

However, when you move toward others with compassion, you are likely to encounter some common attitudes that want you to close your heart again. The usual suspects are judgment and all its associated "isms": ageism, classism, racism, sexism, and nationalism.

On a personal level, your compassion is sabotaged by feelings of ill will toward others: malice and spite. These feelings, and others arising out of personal pain and emotional wounds, are actually symptoms indicating that you need to have compassion for yourself.

Quotes

Compassion is a foundation for sharing our aliveness and 
building a more humane world.
— Martin Lowenthal in Opening the Heart of Compassion


Olivia filling a sock with toiletries and 
other personal care items that will be 
donated to a person experiencing homelessness.
(Taken on February 5, 2015.)

Like a mother who protects her child, 
her only child, 
with her own life, 
one should cultivate a heart of unlimited love and 
compassion towards all living beings.
— The Buddha quoted in The Mystic Vision 
edited by Andrew Harvey and Anne Baring

Olivia and I brought lunch to my mother on Valentine's Day.
I made tuna noodle salad with eggs and 
chopped all the vegetables very small so she could eat them 
(she has lost most of her lower teeth).
We had fresh strawberries and mandarin oranges,
 rosemary crackers, and chocolate cookies.
She has a container of potted tulips that 
will grow over the next few weeks.
(Taken on February 14, 2015.)

The Jain religion in India teaches that because all life is essentially interrelated and interconnected, all living beings should be considered sacred and be respected. This belief forms the basis of the doctrine of ahimsa, which has been translated into English variously as "reverence for life," "nonviolence," and "dynamic compassion."
— Nathaniel Altman in Sacred Trees


When we were volunteering at Northwoods Humane Society on February 13th, we noticed Jet who was in her kennel at the very back pressed up against the wall. She appeared frightened and very timid. Brenda (the executive director) had to carry her out and gently push her into the room where we were sitting. 

Within five minutes of listening to harp music and being petted, Jet was feeling more relaxed. She even ate two bowls of soft food. Her expression and demeanor changed from one of fear and anxiety to one of happiness and relaxation. 

She was moved to a quieter area at Northwoods after her time in the room with us and seemed to be doing significantly better. Her ears were up, she looked alert, and she was so much more engaged and happy. She's going to make a family who adopts her very happy. 

Compassion is the intention to see each human being 
as no better or worse than yourself, 
neither more nor less important, and 
as fundamentally similar to yourself.
— Timothy Miller in How to Want What You Have

 
Because my mom has significant vision issues (she's blind in both eyes), 
we bought her a Valentine's Day card 
that hopefully she could see.
Sure enough, when she took the card out of the envelope, 
she said, "I can see it!"
Her smile was heart-warming for me to see.
Olivia read her the message, and 
I noticed as she was reading it my mom had her hand on her heart.
She had tears in her eyes as Olivia read to her.
(Taken on February 14, 2015.)

To grow old is to pass from passion to compassion.
— Albert Camus quoted in Letters to a Young Doubter by William Sloane Coffin

We are beginning to learn that each animal has a life and a place and a role in this world. If we place compassion and care in the middle of all our dealings with the animal world and honor and respect their lives, our attitudes will change.
— Jane Goodall in The Ten Trusts

Sophia and Bailey

On the day that Bailey was adopted from the 
Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation (August 13th), 
we have welcomed and  tried to provide comfort to her.
She was not use to eating grass (she was in a dry lot and ate baled hay),
 so she needed to be slowly transitioned to 
being able to eat fresh grass.
During the first week after she was adopted, 
the vet came out to do an overall check on her. 
He noticed that she was blind in her right eye, and 
had some pigment issue with the left eye.
This has required compassionate care as 
we helped her learn her new environment, 
meet a new equine friend who was adopted on the same day, and 
helped her trust us. 
(Taken on August 13, 2009)

What do you want to achieve? The Dalai Lama responded, "To be happy. My practice helps me lead a useful life. If I can give some short moment of happiness to others, then I feel that my life has achieved some purpose. This gives me deep mental satisfaction — this feeling always comes if you serve others. So when I help others, I feel happy. For me, the most important thing is human compassion, a sense of caring for one another."
— His Holiness the Dalai Lama quoted in The Big Questions by Lama Surya Das

Dogs Resting While We Pack Books
Sophia packaging up boxes of books that 
we shipped to Lesotho, Africa, to establish a library in a primary school.
(Taken on December 7, 2012.)

All beings wish for happiness, so extend your compassion to all.
— The Buddha quoted in Buddhist Wisdom by David Crosweller

Olivia Folding Clothes
Olivia helping to fold and organize clothes for
a clothing giveaway at a local church.
(Taken on May 19, 2011.)

Every time I hold a bowl of rice, I know how fortunate I am. I know that forty thousand children die every day because of the lack of food and that many people are lonely, without friends or family. I visualize them and feel deep compassion. You don't need to be in a monastery to practice this. You can practice at home at your dinner table. Eating mindfully is a wonderful way to nourish compassion and it encourages us to do something to help those who are hungry and lonely.
— Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ

Donating Food to Food Shelf
Olivia and Sophia donating food to the food shelf. 
(Taken on July 31, 2012.)

Books

I checked out two books from the library during the last two weeks: The Rhythm of Compassion - Caring for Self, Connecting with Society and How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World.

The first book I began reading, The Rhythm of Compassion - Caring for Self, Connecting with Society by Gail Straub, has taken me the entire two weeks to read. The book compares the relationship between soul and society to the in-breath and the out-breath of meditation practice.

She presents stories of individuals who have struggled to maintain balance while caring for self and caring for the world as well as questions that prompt the reader to reflect on their inner life and who they are; and their life of service.

Helping Make 500 Sandwiches
Sophia, Olivia, and I helped make meat and cheese sandwiches 
that were donated to a program that 
served those who were experiencing homelessness.
(Taken on September 23, 2012.)

The most critical part is finding a central image that influences how we see our personal life, identifying the legacies we've inherited from our parents, and exposing where we belong and where we hide.

The author discusses four qualities of mature compassion — a quiet mind, an open heart, presence, and radical simplicity. We can become more compassionate by making a place for imagination, discipline, and support in our lives.

I am petting Bridget as she listens to harp music.
We are volunteering once at month 
at Northwoods Humane Society.
(Taken on February 13, 2015.)

However, our helping is tainted when "the ego wants to fix, to make things perfect, to reorder someone else's life, to do something to maintain the illusion of control."

There are so many insights into this book about my own life and focus on helping others. I am taking my time with it to fully reflect on it, and think about ways to be both more compassionate to myself as I try to be with others through volunteering and service.

The second book that I checked out is How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World by His Holiness The Dalai Lama. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but it is focused on the Tibetan techniques for how to transform one's mind and heart. The book is supposed to have a "soul-stirring, enlightening array of material gleaned from science, religion, theology, psychology, and [The Dalai Lama's] own adventures of living a compassionate life."

Sophia with Nora - one of the dogs that 
came into the room when she was playing the harp.
Olivia and I each spent time with Nora.
(Taken on February 13, 2015.)

Films

There's a movie called Damien that's a one-man drama focusing on the suffering servanthood ministry of Father Damien, a priest who put his life on the line for lepers isolated on Molokai island in Hawaii. This movie was unavailable through any Minnesota library, so I ordered a book instead about Father Damien.

Music

Benjamin Britten's War Requiem was first performed at the 1962 dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral built next to the ruins of the cathedral destroyed during World War II.

Winston Churchill visiting the ruins of 
the Coventry Cathedral in 941.

In this choral work, Britten alternates the language of the mass with tenor and baritone solos taken from the antiwar poetry of Wilfred Owen, who died on the battlefield in World War I. Compassion is a constant companion of this powerful music.

Wilfred Owen.

The YouTube video I found is 91 minutes. It is an impressive work of art that includes a full orchestra and choir.

According to Wikipedia, "The traditional Latin texts are interspersed, in telling juxtaposition, with settings of poems by Wilfred Owen, written in World War I. The work is scored for soprano, tenor and baritone soloists, chorus, boys' choir, organ, and two orchestras (a full orchestra and a chamber orchestra). The chamber orchestra accompanies the intimate settings of the English poetry, while soprano, choirs and orchestra are used for the Latin sections; all forces are combined in the conclusion."

Art

Two of Pablo Picasso's most famous paintings evoke compassion. Guernica, painted in 1937 for the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris World's Fair, reflects the artist's visceral response to the destruction caused by the Spanish Civil War.



Picasso created this piece in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country village in northern Spain, by German and Italian warplanes at the behest of the Spanish Nationalist forces on April 26, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War.

According to Wikipedia, "Guernica is a statement against fascism, showing the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon individuals, particularly innocent civilians. This work has gained a monumental status, becoming a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war, an anti-war symbol, and an embodiment of peace. Upon completion, Guernica was displayed around the world in a brief tour, becoming famous and widely acclaimed. This tour helped bring the Spanish Civil War to the world's attention."

Weeping Woman, from the same year, is considered to be a postscript to Guernica.


The Weeping Woman series, according to Wikipedia, "...is regarded as a thematic continuation of the tragedy depicted in Picasso's epic painting Guernica. In focusing on the image of a woman crying, the artist was no longer painting the effects of the Spanish Civil War directly, but rather referring to a singular universal image of suffering."

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

Seeing someone in pain is my cue to practice compassion.

When I was volunteering at the nursing home on February 13th, there were several people who were having difficult afternoons because of their challenges with dementia. All were part of the Music & Memory program, so I helped the CNAs get the iPods with the personalized music and the headphones and put them on the seniors. Listening to the music helps reduce stress and anxiety as well as some of the behaviors that appear because of dementia (e.g., yelling out).

Music has the power to reduce stress and anxiety; and
create the feeling of happiness in those with 
dementia and Alzheimer's Disease.
(Taken on January 23, 2015.)

I am so thankful that I was trained to do the Music & Memory program, and that we are able to bring the gift of music to seniors.

Practice of the Day

If you see on the evening news a person who moves you by his distress, just breathe it in and breathe out to him love and strength.
— Andrew Harvey in The Direct Path

To Practice This Thought: Send love to a stranger you notice is in need.

Spiritual Exercise

Create a Compassion Collage. I didn't do this since I didn't have magazines that I could cut up, but do want to do this in the future. Basically, the activity is to gather pictures of people, places, and things for which you feel compassion. You may take photos yourself, cut them out of magazines and newspapers, copy them from books, or find them in the direct mail appeals from service organizations.

Look for strong pictures to which you have an emotional response, no matter how painful. Include examples of the suffering of animals, nature, and things.

Add words or symbols to represent others areas of concern — "Earthquake" to remind you to feel compassion for victims of natural disasters, "Prison" for political prisoners and those who have committed crimes, or "Garbage" to note the suffering caused by wasteful consumption - for example.

Leave one area of your collage blank for what has not yet touched your compassionate heart. Keep your collage in a place where you can contemplate it at least once every day. One or more images may become the focus of prayer or meditation.

Hand Collage - One of the activities that I did see during the two-week time period focused on Compassion was one that was done at the 4-H BLU conference on February 7-8, 2015. The youth were in small groups and each traced her/his hand onto a piece of white paper.

Inside their hands they put things that they liked to do with others. From the overlapping hands, you could see how the youth were different from one another - yet could come together, support one another, and make a difference in the world.


 
Above: Sophia and Olivia in their small groups 
working on the hand tracings.
Below: The hand tracings of Sophia's group.

Journal Exercises


Some of the positive and inspiring messages that 
the youth wrote at the 4-H BLU conference 
on February 7-8, 2015.

• Identify an area where you need to be compassionate to yourself. Write about how you will go about this.

Interestingly, this issue came up at the beginning of the month when I was journaling and before I had read about this exercise. I wrote about how the upcoming several months - particularly the next few weeks - already feel like they are out of balance with a lot of volunteering and not enough time at home.

One of the challenges that I'm going to need to address is how to balance my time - homeschooling, volunteering, and caring for my family - so that I don't burn out and/or am not effective.

• Make a list of "missed opportunities" to show compassion to poor, sick, lonely, alienated, or hurting beings. Look for any patterns in your behavior or inaction. Identify an obstacle or rationalization that has kept you from being more compassionate.

This is something that I wrote in my journal about.

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

The following are two things to reflect upon not only during this two-week time period, but throughout the year:

• Share an example of a situation when your willingness to be compassionate was tested. What do you usually do when you meet someone in need of help? What kinds of questions do you ask yourself? What conditions do you set?

• Tell a story about a moral mentor you have known-someone who inspired you with his or her compassionate activity.

Household, Group, and Community Projects


At the 4-H BLU conference, each youth wrote her/his name 
on a piece of paper that was tri-folded. On the inside, 
they wrote things that they are proud about themselves. 
On the outside from they wrote their name. 
On the back center, other youth in the small group 
wrote positive qualities about the person. 
It was a way to build self-esteem and acceptance, and 
show compassion to one another through 
supportive words and comments.

• Go on a fast. If you are inexperienced in this practice, begin with a one-day fast. Eat only fruits or vegetables and drink at least eight glasses of water. Or skip a meal a day for one week. Use the time you would have spent preparing and eating food for quiet reflection on the experience of being hungry. Feel compassion for the millions of people around the world who do not have enough to eat. 

I didn't do this, but want to remember that this may be an action to take at some point in the future.

Olivia petting Nora while Sophia played the harp 
at Northwoods Humane Society.
Nora loved all the extra attention and music.
(Taken on February 13, 2015.)

• Volunteer to serve meals at a soup kitchen, to carry meals to shut-ins, to read to people in the hospital, or to do any other activity that puts you close to suffering.

On February 13th, Sophia, Olivia, and I volunteered at Northwoods Humane Society to provide music therapy and extra attention to dogs and cats who were experiencing higher-than-normal levels of anxiety or stress, or needed some one-on-one time with people.

That afternoon, we spent time with about 15 seniors and helped them frost and decorate cookies for Valentine's Day. For many of them, they needed help remembering how to use a knife and put frosting on a cookie, and what to do with sprinkles. It was pretty sobering to see that such a basic activity was so challenging for many of the them.

I also had the opportunity to put the Music & Memory headphones on seniors who had dementia or Alzheimer's Disease who were having difficulty that afternoon.

On February 14th, Olivia and I visited my mom who is considered a shut-in. She was thrilled to have us spend time with her and eat lunch that I had prepared that morning for her. We had a nice conversation and time together.

Sophia, Olivia, and I gave Valentine's Day cards 
to the seniors. Vernon was so excited to receive one, and 
had his tucked in his pocket so he could bring it 
back to his room at the nursing home.
(Taken on February 13, 2015.)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Rhythm of Compassion - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 5

I'm tying the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks with my A to Z Spiritual Practices this year, and this week the focus is on compassion. 

I read The Rhythm of Compassion - Caring for Self, Connecting with Society and How to Be Compassionate: A Handbook for Creating Inner Peace and a Happier World by Gail Straub.

The book compares the relationship between soul and society to the in-breath and the out-breath of meditation practice. The author presents stories of individuals who have struggled to maintain balance while caring for self and caring for the world as well as questions that prompt the reader to reflect on their inner life and who they are; and their life of service.

There are so many insights into this book about my own life and focus on helping others. I am taking my time with it to fully reflect on it, and think about ways to be both more compassionate to myself as I try to be with others through volunteering and service.

Some of the things I want to remember are:
- Our own health - physical, emotional, and spiritual - is inseparable from the health of the planet, and that we can't truly heal one without healing the other.
- An incessantly busy life...is used to deaden deepest feelings and avoid suffering. As you begin to heal yourself, you can be present for difficult situations (e.g., dying parent).
- Healing the soul begins with a commitment to telling the truth. If we tell our story just the way it is...we discover who we are and what matters to us.
- Search for an unhappy or unfulfilled area of your life. In particular, look for an area where you simply cannot overcome a problem even though you genuinely want to.
- I could not be, so I had to do.
- Many people who are deeply committed to social change end up ignoring their own basic needs. Yet exhaustion and lack of self-compassion limit our effectiveness out in the world.
- To continue service, you have to understand that compassion is a living circle, starting with yourself and then encompassing your work in society.

"Everyone can be great because everyone can serve." 
(Dr. Martin Luther King)

- Common challenges as central themes in stories: abandonment, self-esteem, trust, fear of life, fear of death, power, despair, aloneness, emptiness, desire for love, and fear of love.
- Investigate your central image over a period of several months or more.
- Review your life and look for areas in your life where you are chronically unhappy or feel unfulfilled. Look for difficult places you are doing your best to change, but where the pattern of unhappiness continues. The obvious places to dig are relationships, family, emotions, body, work, money, creativity, or spirituality.
- Next look at the common theme or thread running through the pattern: fear of intimacy, lack of self-esteem, fear of rejection or abandonment, mistrusting people or the world, lack of self-responsibility, becoming a victim, over-control or fear of surrender, and fear of success and/or happiness.
- Our parents shaped who we are, and have an indelible impact on what matters most to us.
- The lessons we are compelled to learn from our parents are the very teachings that allow us to go beyond ourselves and reach out to the world.
- My mother taught me that faith is central to living....my concern for others, the love of my home, and the ritual celebrations I host to bring people together are all tributes to her.
- My mother gave me the gift of faith and appreciation for the beauty of the world. My father asked me to put that passion into action.
- My father never had much money, yet he managed to provide us with a rich childhood.
- Both my parents gave me a deep appreciation of artistry and beauty. My mother was saying to me, bring beauty into your life and nourish your faith. My father was saying to me, bring beauty into the world and sustain your hope.
- As I deepen my inner life I am honoring my mother, and as I contribute to the world I pay tribute to my father.

There is no house like the house of belonging. 
(David Whyte)

- Our place of belonging is where we feel most known and accepted. It's a source of strength and frequently a guidepost to our life's calling. The place of hiding is where we feel most alienated and where we wear a false mask to cover our true self. Our mask is usually an area of hidden yet intense suffering.
- Full awareness of both of these forces enriches our self-understanding and our connection to the world.
- To belong is to feel at home with yourself. In a life story, a place of belonging is that place where you feel most alive, most yourself. You feel known and accepted for who you are (e.g., books, music, sports, helping others, art, science, travel, nature).
- The natural world is my soul food, my true church, and my first and oldest love. In nature, I felt completely at home, and yet surrounded by immense mystery.
- Because I felt so alive and so myself in nature it became central to both my inner life and my calling in the world. I go to the natural world for spiritual guidance and renewal.
- Our early sense of belonging can signal what matters to us. It can provide the love that sustains us or the fire that lights our passion.

"Compassion in action is paradoxical and mysterious. 
It is absolute yet continually changing. 
It accepts that everything is happening exactly as it should, and 
it works with a full-hearted commitment to change. 
It is joyful in the midst of suffering, and 
hopeful in the face of overwhelming odds. 
It is simple in a world of complexity and confusion. 
It is done for others, but it nurtures the self. 
It intents to eliminate suffering, 
knowing that suffering is limitless. 
(Ram Dass)

- What can you to deepen your sense of belonging, the feeling of being fully alive? Make a commitment to doing at least one thing each week toward that goal.
- Ironically, our masks manifest the exact opposite of what we intend. A mask of perfectionism sometimes is intended to get someone love. In fact, the tyranny of "being the best" can deeply isolate a person from others.
- On one level, a wake-up call (e.g., illness, death, divorce, or loss of a job) often destroys something, on another level it offers the opportunity for something new to be born. Though all these events are painful, they are also transformers.
- Waking up we begin to live more authentically, we set new priorities so we can spend more time with our family, take care of our health, do nothing for awhile, or explore a new way to give back to society.
- Are you seriously out of balance in any areas of your life? Is a wake-up call at your door asking you to pay attention, to make a change? What do you need to do to bring more balance into your life on a daily and weekly basis?
- We cultivate the capacity to trust that our lives are unfolding just the way they need to....This trust is nurtured by an unabashed desire to live fully, facing our fears and challenges and then getting on with it, finding what we love and doing it, and sharing what we've learned with the world.

"The best way to become a better 'helper' 
is to become a better person. 
But one necessary aspect of becoming a better person 
is via helping other people. 
So one must and can do both simultaneously." 
(Abraham Maslow)

- In America today, some 38 million people live in poverty, and many are single mothers and children. Ten percent of America's citizens control the vast majority of wealth, and the United States now has the greatest gap between the rich and poor of any industrialized country. Unless we change our consumption patterns we will be responsible for the extinction of 25 percent of all species by 2025.
- As a small 5% of the world's population, Americans consume one-third of the planet's resources. While we use up to three times more than our fair share, at least a billion people in our world aren't getting enough food to survive.
- Visionaries like Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau, Simone Weil, and Mahatma Gandhi have guided us toward a socially-engaged spirituality.

"Because we all share this small planet earth, 
we have to learn to live in harmony and peace 
with each other and with nature. 
That is not just a dream, but a necessity. 
We are dependent upon each other in so many ways 
that we can no longer live in isolated communities and 
ignore what is happening outside.
(Dalai Lama)

- Service can manifest both in formal volunteering (e.g., serving in soup kitchens or prisons, or replanting forests) and through information channels (e.g., the father who coaches his son's basketball team as form of mentoring, the restaurant owner who sends her compost to an organic farm or makes sure all of her leftover food goes to homeless shelters). We need all these acts of loving kindness to build the kind of communities we hope for.
- Where is compassion leading me at this time in my life - inward towards personal needs, or outward paying more attention to my role in the world?
- Busyness...seduces the activist into never having time to care for herself.

The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, 
perhaps the most common form, of innate violence. 
To allow oneself to be carried away 
by a multitude of conflicting concerns, 
to surrender to too many demands, 
to commit oneself to too many projects, 
to want to help everyone in everything 
is to succumb to violence. 
The frenzy of the activist neutralizes her work for peace. 
It destroys her own inner capacity for peace. 
It kills the root of inner wisdom that makes work fruitful. 
(Thomas Merton)

- In all of this abundance, what matters most? How am I spending my time? Am I using it compassionately and creatively? What goals does my spirit serve?
- I am seeing that I keep myself incessantly busy so I can avoid the hard areas in my life. How well-defended I am. Is it even worth trying? To approach the issue of society's suffering I first have to deal with why I've chosen to stay so busy. I need to find out what I have no time for something so important to me.
- Her son was her loving caretaker during her final days. The quiet dignity of her death, infused with poignant memories of her full and meaningful life, provided a mirror for him to see his current life choices with stark reality. After her death, he strengthened his spiritual practice.
- What a relief it is to clear away the things that drain our energy and make room for what nourishes us. Now we have the space to really hear our rhythm of compassion.
- Ask which activities (inner and outer) can I eliminate or reduce? Which drain my energy and leave me feeling empty or indifferent? .... Some hints about what you can eliminate or reduce: work, food, television, e-mail, phone calls, complaining, self-absorption, noise, and constantly doing for others. Make a commitment to start eliminating at least one unnecessary activity this week, and then commit to one more for the next four weeks.
- Walk around your neighborhood and be aware of as many details as possible (trees, creatures, birds, plants, stones, water, sky, people, and buildings). Think of things to enhance the outdoors: plant an indigenous herb garden or feed the birds.
- The qualities of imagination, discipline, and support are the friends of balance, helping us find and sustain our rhythm.
- How can I get out of the box of my ordinary routines and let my ingenuity combine some of these preferred activities? Social contribution and family time? Self-care with family time? Offering my special talents to someone in need?

Be brave, start small, use what you've got, 
do something you enjoy, don't over-commit.
(Mirabai Bush)

- Common shadows include become a service workaholic, using your addiction to service as an excuse not to examine your own feelings and your own need for balance.
- As you care for others, you will find your personal healing is accelerated in ways you never imagined.
- The partnership of a quiet mind and an open heart are cultivated through dedicated spiritual practice.
- Listen with ears that don't need to resolve, or solve, or fix anyone. This kind of deep listening is based on acceptance: acceptance of people, creatures, or the environment as they are, acceptance that we can't control or manipulate the way events will evolve.
- I bring my brokenness as well as my strengths to those I care for.
-  It isn't about doing, it's about being wholly and completely with the other person.
In the poignancy of our human condition we connect, and now we both give and receive. With mutuality there is more joy and less effort, a sure sign presence is emerging.
- To deepen presence we sometimes have to face aspects of suffering that frighten or repulse us. We care for an aging parent who loses bodily functions, or a loved one with cancer suddenly doesn't recognize us. In these instances remembering that we can't control things and remembering to simply be ourselves is especially helpful.
- Presence is the opposite of resolving or fixing. It is natural, listening, laughing, crying, cooking, or holding hands. Spontaneity replaced self-consciousness and made room for the grace of healing. Acceptance replaced the need to change or control suffering. Ultimately we understand that the exchange of our very humanness heals us and those we serve.
- Imagine that all you have to do is be fully present to the person or creature in your care, all that's required to serve skillfully is radical simplicity.
- Serving from a place of effortless generosity we experience intimacy with all living things and we are naturally moved to care for those who are in pain. We feel profoundly connected with strangers, people, and creatures we've never met...Service becomes part of our spiritual practice.
- The human family's spiritual bankruptcy is in direct proportion to our disregard for the planet we live on.
- For many of us it's our connection with the earth that reawakens our soul and imbues us with a sense of the sacred.
- Recall a time when you were healed by the earth....Perhaps the natural world offered you solace in time of sadness, or clarity in time of confusion. One way to continue to join your story with the earth's story is to simply focus on one moment of connection each day. You can do this outside in the natural world or as a part of your daily spiritual practice.
- When we experience sustainable living (e.g., recycling, water and energy saved, shared rides) as ongoing practice in mindfulness, suddenly it's not just ecological awareness, but equally spiritual practice. Each of these is mindfulness practice, each is an act of compassion.
- The way we live either contributes further to our ecological crisis or becomes a  central part of its resolution.
- Composting: this practice is a tangible reminder that life and death are a continuous living circle that each person is a part of.
- Beyond the essentials of life, you can buy fewer and fewer things; arrange weekly errands so you need one trip to town instead of three.
- The weaving of sustainable living is a work in progress and doesn't happen all at once.
- By using less we end up with so much more.
- Look at each element and what you can do: water (fix leaks), fire (lower your heat or use less air conditioning), air (use your bike or cluster errands together), and earth (don't buy things you don't need, pay attention to quality and packaging, swap instead of buy, share or loan things).
- Heartbreak is an inevitable part of compassion. It opens us and connects us to those we serve. Staying mindful that we can't explain or fix suffering, we find creative ways to cope. We write poem, paint, turn to prayer, silence, or spend time in nature. Both creativity and the solitude of retreat allow us to integrate the lessons of the world's pain.
- To abandon others in their suffering is to abandon ourselves. To open to the immensity of others' pain is to open to the immense compassion within ourselves. At this juncture our service and our spiritual meet as one.
- We can help alleviate the suffering of all creatures through several compassionate actions: by loving and respecting the animals in our immediate environment: by purchasing and using cruelty-free products; and by protecting creatures as members of the family of life that share this earth with us.
- The spiritual practice of stewardship is an equal partnership of joy and sorrow. An awakened heart takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride where we might witness unspeakable suffering right next to the precious rewards of service.
- Nourish a deep faith through a relationship with the natural world, love of your family, and/or work for social justice.
- To make a contribution to our communities many of us had to re-prioritize our lives, clearing away incessant busyness and the multitude of things that drained our energy. To care for the earth we were asked to create sustainable lifestyles that lead to simpler, cleaner living.
- Living in an earth-friendly way helped break our collective addiction to the consumerism that left us with hollow lives.
- Consuming less and contributing more nourished our souls with the rewards of beauty, peace of mind, family, community, and time for the almost lost pleasures of real conversation, walking, and reading.
- The greatest friend of all is our chosen spiritual practice. Regardless of the form, our practice is a time for silence and solitude. It is a time to reconnect with our spirit, quiet our mind, and open our heart.

Spiritual Practices A to Z: Beauty

Throughout 2015, I am going to do "Spiritual Practices A to Z" based on the spiritual practices that are shared on the Spirituality & Practice website. There is a list available of spiritual practices that are from A to Z. Some letters have two practices, but the majority have one.

I am choosing to focus on one spiritual practice for two weeks, and then move onto another one. There are quite a few different ideas - from reading, watching movies, listening to music, looking at artwork, journaling, and spiritual exercises.

So, for the past two weeks, I have focused on the spiritual practice of beauty.

Spiritual Practice: Beauty
Enhances: Simplicity, Pleasure
Balances/Counters: Clutter, Habitual Life

The Basic Practice

As the Spiritual Practices website says, "The Navaho blessing 'May you walk in beauty' catches the essence of this spiritual practice. Beauty is both a path you travel and what surrounds you on the path. In the splendor of the Creation, we see its outer forms. In morality and benevolence, we recognize its inner expressions.

Purple Log Pathway
A pathway of logs painted purple.
Taken on May 20, 2010 at  
Franconia Sculpture Park.

"Start this practice with the assumption that beauty is everywhere just waiting for you to notice it. Allow yourself to feel its effect upon your soul. Some experiences will stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. Others will be more subtle but equally sublime. Then make your actions reflections of the beauty all around you."

Shadow on a Rock
A shadow on the road.
Taken on June 1, 2008.

Why This Practice May Be For You

Clutter gets in the way of beauty. If we have too many things and tasks in front of us, we may not notice what is beautiful about them. The contrast is simplicity; by paring away excesses, we make an opening for splendor.

Buckets and Shoes
A simple part of a home in Pella, Iowa.
Taken on April 29, 2009.

Routine and rigid thinking also restrict our appreciation of beauty. If we are stuck in a rut, we never discover the refreshment waiting just around the corners of our daily schedule. If we have a narrow understanding of aesthetics, we are limited in our ability to recognize beauty's varied manifestations.

Beauty is startling, stimulating, and soothing. Try this practice when you need to be pulled out of your habitual way of seeing and being. Its cultivation produces pleasure.

Quotations

The Buddha taught that morality is the true beauty of a human being, not one's physical appearance or outer adornments.
— Joseph Goldstein in Transforming the Mind, Healing the World

Another Amish Home
Clothing hanging outdoors to dry at an Amish home.
Taken on August 24, 2012.

To recognize, appreciate, or create beauty is to bring gladness into life.
— Paul Brunton quoted in Meditations for People in Crisis edited by Sam and Leslie Cohen

Sophia laughing...a typical look
Sophia on August 9, 2007.

It's the beauty within us that makes it possible for us to recognize the beauty around us.
— Joan Chittister in The Psalms

Olivia Swinging
Olivia swinging in the backyard on
September 29, 2007.

Show me the goodness,
the beauty,
the kindness
in everyone I meet.
— Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in The Gentle Weapon

Sophia Reading Papa His Favorite Book
Sophia reading my dad his favorite book 
when he was a child on August 23, 2010.

Books

Kent Nerburn, who believes that beauty nourishes the soul, wrote a collection of stories in Ordinary Sacred: The Simple Beauty of Everyday Life. I enjoyed reading this book of  spiritual teachings about the simple beauty in everyday life, and wrote a review which included many ideas from it that I wanted to remember.


I also read The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane by C. M. Millen. The book is about Theophane, a young monk who lived at a monastery in the mountains of Mourne, Ireland, during the Middle Ages.


Theophane is out of step with the other members of this community of scribes who spend their long days hunched over the Bible and other religious books they are copying. He feeds the birds from crumbs left over from his meal.

Something that stood out was a small passage about how when "...he open the door a breeze kissed his brow and removed every trace of Theophane's frown. With every step forward he felt less alone - each scent and each sound seemed to welcome him home."

That statement is reflective of how I often feel when I take the time to be outdoors and simply relax. It's a connection to a place that feels like home...a place where I'm comfortable and enjoying spending time.

He continues: "What a lovely sound: the wind against the elm making music for me! What a lovely song of the gray blackbird as she claps her wing! It is lovely writing out in the wood. It is a humble, hidden house for good."

What I also found interesting was the different plants that, when boiled, will transform the water into beautiful colors: "Weld blooms bring orange, cabbage leaves, green. The more madder I get, the redder it seems. The buckthorn turns golden, while woad leaves turn blue, and bilberries spill very bright violet hues. And from the wee crocus such a a strong yellow shade."

As Theophane would be gardening and harvesting the plants for the colors they would produce, the "best yields of all, for Theophane's part, were the peace in his heart and the joy in his heart."

The Ink Garden of Brother Theophane pays tribute to the Theophane's reverence for nature, his love of beauty, and his use of imagination to find his own true calling.

A third book that was recommended is Living the Japanese Arts & Ways - 45 Paths to Meditation & Beauty by H. E. Davey. I just received this book a few days before the end of the month, so haven't had time to read it.

Basically, the book focuses on the five central attributes at the heart of the Japanese Arts and Ways: harmony, asymmetrical balance, artlessness, impermanence, and unity with the universe. These are all evident in bonsai, yoga, calligraphy, tea ceremony, ikebana, and the martial arts. The author discusses 45 concepts of the Japanese Ways, many of which have Taoist roots. I'm looking forward to reading this book.

Films

Girl With a Pearl Earring is an artistic film that tells the story behind one of Jan Vermeer's most known paintings. It reveals beauty in its many guises — in the unspoiled beauty of a young girl, in the artist's fascination with light, and in the pleasures of the senses.

Music

Joe Cocker's pop song You Are So Beautiful is a simple testimony to the power of beauty. As the Spiritual Practices website says, "The lyric repeats the title and says little else. Still, there seem to be layers of feeling behind the words. Cocker uses his distinctive voice to convey a palpable yearning not only for the object of his desire but for beauty in general. Listen especially for how his voice cracks on the final phrase."

I listened to the song and watched a video on YouTube. The images shown were women and men who were young and fit. In essence, just exterior beauty.

Mom, Dad, Girls, and Ruth
Sophia, Ruth (who was our first Brazilian exchange student), 
Mom, Olivia, and Dad on June 4, 2009.
Mom and Dad invited us over to enjoy lunch together.

As the song continued, images of my parents, the seniors with whom we volunteer, and people in my life came to mind.

Dorrinne and Annabelle
Dorrine and Annabelle making a strawberry pie 
at the nursing home on February 9, 2013.

These people, to me, represent beauty. None of them has that perfect shape or size; or are young. All had or have the beauty of years and wisdom...and the generosity of spirit and kindness.

Conversely, when I think of Sophia and Olivia - at only 14 and 12 years old respectively - their beauty is both exterior and interior. What radiates from both of the girls is what I admire most in everyone - a spirit of kindness.

Olivia dressed up as St. Lucia. 
She visited seniors on December 12, 2014,
who were spending their first Christmas in the nursing home 
as well as some seniors who make a point of 
always visiting when we go there, like John.

 They are so giving with their time and skills, and they have made such a positive impact on others.

Sophia playing the harp for 25 seniors at the nursing home 
on December 22, 2014.

These are the qualities that I think of when I think of beauty.

Art

Georgia O'Keeffe - One Hundred Flowers is an impressive collection of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings of enlarged flowers. Here are huge blossoms — the originals are up to 6 feet tall — filling the canvas. I'm still waiting for this book from the library, and am looking forward to seeing the images in it.

Daily Cue, Reminder, Vow, Blessing

The sight of a vibrant red (or substitute the color of your choice) today is a cue for me to notice something beautiful in my environment. 

I didn't use this cue during the two weeks that I was focusing on this spiritual practice, but I want to remember it as something to use at some point.

When I see a stunning sunset, I am reminded to cherish beautiful experiences.

This is easy to do when living in the country. Our view is of open land to the west so the sunsets are often amazingly beautiful.

Sunset on December 23rd
A beautiful sunset with differing shades of color
Taken on January 8, 2008.

When I growing up, my family lived on a lake. The back of our home faced west, so often times at dinner and after dinner, we would enjoy the setting sun. My dad loved to capture the beautiful sunsets on his camera. After he died, I developed the film on his camera. The last photograph he took: a sunset. An absolutely stunning sunset.

When I encounter someone in need, I vow to express the beauty within me with an act of service.

During the last part of January, Sophia, Tia (the volunteer director at the nursing home), and I worked on the Music & Memory program. We spent a tremendous amount of time with training back in October, and then setting up the program during December and January. Our goal was to launch the program on January 23, 2015, and we did.

The Music & Memory program is for seniors who have Alzheimer's Disease or dementia. The nursing home received a grant to pilot the program with ten seniors. Each one we have uploaded music that we think they would enjoy listening to based on what their family shared with us and/or what we know about them.

Almost immediately when the seniors heard familiar songs, their demeanor changed. Smiles broke out on their faces.

Philip - who normally is asleep each time I see him - 
was alert and smiling when listening to the music.

The expression of pure joy and deeply feeling the music was so evident.

Annabelle listened with joy as the songs
resonated with her spirit.

For others, concentrating on each song and being drawn into another world in which they were calm and relaxed was rewarding to see.

Ollie and his wife spent time together while 
Ollie focused deeply on the songs.
His wife said she could tell he was enjoying 
what he was listening to on the iPod.

Being able to be part of this program and bring it to seniors who need it and would appreciate it, was truly a gift. I feel so honored to be able to be a part of it.

Practice of the Day

We all share beauty. It strikes us indiscriminately....There is no end to beauty for the person who is aware. Even the cracks between the sidewalk contain geometric patterns of amazing beauty. If we take pictures of them and blow up the photographs, we realize we walk on beauty every day, even when things seem ugly around us.
— Matthew Fox in Creation Spirituality

To Practice This Thought: Describe the most surprisingly beautiful thing you have seen today.

When I went out to fill the horses' water tanks, Bailey (the horse) came into the barn to watch me. As I was putting a small bucket on a hook on the wall, she stood behind me and rested her head on my shoulder. I could feel the weight of her head on my shoulder and feel her breathing.

Bailey


As the water was filling, I looked into her deep, brown eyes and looked at her thick, black coat. She's such a beautiful horse. I think of when she joined our family and how nervous and skittish she was because of where she lived prior to being rescued and going into foster care. She's so trusting now...and that is something that I find equally as beautiful about her.

Spiritual Exercises

Beautify your home. The Spiritual Practices website said, "Start by clearing out any clutter and things you are not using. Affirm your commitment to simplify your life by giving away or discarding at least one excess possession. Then choose one area of the house to give special attention. Perhaps you will clean and polish the wood furnishings or scrub all the tiles. As you are working, admire the textures, colors, and structure of each item."

I focused on the mudroom, kitchen, downstairs bathroom, dining room, and living room since these are the first rooms that you see when entering the house. After spending a considerable amount of time putting things away in cupboards, washing the dishes, sweeping, vacuuming the floors, and thoroughly washing off all surfaces - everything looked so much better.

We finally donated six bags of items that were waiting to be brought into the thrift shop. Doing this freed up quite a bit of space which was nice.

Book Excerpt

I read Clutter Busting: Letting Go of What's Holding You Back by Brooks Palmer, and did a review.

In addition, the Spiritual Practices website included an excerpt from the back of Palmer's book that showed many ways to get rid of the clutter in our lives. Here is an excerpt on beauty which encompasses the process of letting go of things:

• Remember that nothing is sacred except you.

• If it doesn't fit anymore, physically or psychologically, let it go.

• Take the items that you are going to review out of their space and move them to another room, or outside, so you can get a fresh perspective.

• If you hesitate, trying to decide whether something is worthwhile, it's clutter.

• If you haven't used it in a year, it's clutter.

• If you find yourself defending the object because of how much it cost you, it's clutter.

• If the item makes you feel out of sorts, it's clutter.

• Always remove from your home what you know to be clutter. Otherwise, it will continue to detract from your life.

• No clutter is labeled CLUTTER. Clutter is invisible. It was put in its location subconsciously. That's why you have to ask if each thing is truly helpful to you or if it's clutter. Sometimes the most cherished thing is clutter. If it's not useful to you now, toss it.

• People can be clutter. Be honest in your relationships. If knowing someone diminishes you, s/he is clutter. You can speak honestly with him/her and see if s/he can change. If not, you can just let him/her go.

• Donate or give away gifts that you don't like.

• Feel good about the process of tossing, and avoid the guilt. Advertisers taught you that things are more valuable than you. They were wrong. You are right.

• Keep the things that feel alive to you. Things have either a living or a dead essence. When you clutter bust your life and home, you will very quickly become aware of the difference, and you will drop the dead things into the trash can.

• Be ruthless. Clutter will try to trick you. Question everything.

• First impressions are always correct. If your first feeling is that the thing is clutter, it is. No dumpster diving.

• Your activities can be clutter. I guarantee that something that you are doing in your life now is clutter. You may be thinking that your value is determined by the activities in your life. That is untrue. You are already valuable! There is no need to prove anything. Those days are over. Ask, "What makes me happy?" Whatever is left over, toss.

• Any piece of clutter could be the thing that stands between you and your happiness. Nothing is too small to be disregarded. Every piece of clutter keeps you from rolling down the freeway of your life with the windows open and your favorite songs playing, with you singing along.

• Toss the trophies, the things that you own only because they are "valuable." Anything you own to impress others is a waste of your time. No one cares.

Journal Exercises

• For one week, or seven entries, describe and react to beauties: (1) a beauty experienced in childhood, (2) a beauty experienced at school or work, (3) a beauty in nature, (4) a beauty in your home, (5) a surprising beauty, (6) something most people consider to be beautiful, (7) something few people consider to be beautiful.

I did this exercise and thoroughly enjoyed it. Each prompt brought out different memories and things that - in some cases - I had forgotten about. I'm so happy I took the time each morning for a week to reflect upon and write about these beautiful things.

Discussion Questions, Storytelling, Sharing

The following questions and prompts are ones that I would like to reflect on at some point. I didn't have the opportunity to do that during the past two weeks.

• In German the word "beautiful" is related to shining. A beautiful person is one whose inner brilliance permeates his or her entire being. Tell your family or friends about your most memorable encounter with a person who was shining.

• Share a story about a beautiful place that comforted, restored, or inspired you.

• Recall a time when a work of art revealed to you the intrinsic beauty in something you had considered ugly or disagreeable. What does this experience reveal about the nature of beauty?

• Did your parents encourage your appreciation of beauty? What did they do? How is this quality honored in your present home?


Household, Group, and Community Projects

Have a make-over. First, think about what would make you feel more beautiful: a haircut, a manicure, different make-up, a new outfit? 

On January 15, 2015, after a couple of years of growing out my hair, I was ready to donate to Children with Hair Loss. I went to a new stylist who specializes in make-overs for women over 40 years old. The first step was to cut off an 11-inch ponytail to donate.

Taken on October 22, 2014, 
at William O'Brien State Park.
By the time I went in for the makeover, 
my bangs were below my eyebrows, 
my hair a bit longer, and I looked very tired.

Once that was done, it was time for shampoo and conditioning my hair. The stylist even did a scalp massage which was so relaxing.

Next, it was onto something that I had thought about, but had never done in my 48 years of life: waxing. I had basically my whole face waxed with the exception of my forehead, nose, eyes, and lips. Everything else was fair game. Although it was uncomfortable, it certainly wasn't as painful as I envisioned. My face feels like it did when I was much younger - so smooth.

My eyebrows were "cleaned up," but she said there wasn't much to do. Apparently I had a nice shape to my eyebrows and not that many stray hairs.

Next came the makeup application and lesson. As my skin has aged, the products that I used in my 20s aren't the same things I should be using now. So, I've been wanting to do this for many years now. The stylist ended up using mineral makeup which I've heard of, but have never used. After applying it, it is set with a light mist of water.

Since I wanted a more natural look that didn't take a long time to apply, she concentrated on my eyes. By far, when I look at pictures and what people have noticed since the makeover are my eyes. It takes no more than 5 minutes to put on the eyeliner, shadows, and mascara - but a what a difference the right colors and application can make.

The last step was the haircut. I had come into the salon thinking that I would leave with a cut below my shoulders. However, the stylist said that if I did that then I would wake up the next day looking basically like the same person. So, I said that I trusted his judgment and to create a style that he thought would look best.

More inches came off my hair so that it is now above my shoulders, and has layers and no bangs. It is a substantial change and one that certainly has surprised people when they see me. It has been a good 20 years since I had hair this short, and a good decade since I haven't had bangs.

After the makeover on January 15, 2015.

This process has been uplifting, liberating, and inspiring. It has changed my attitude and made me happy that I took the time to care for myself. The four hours that I spent at the salon were pivotal in so many positive ways.

Organize a community beautification project for a local park, school yard, street, or highway. Pick up litter, trim the grasses and bushes, plant flowers, or arrange rock gardens. 

In May, the 4-H club that I lead will be planting flowers at a local historical society. The club also is waiting to hear if it received a grant from the Minnesota 4-H Foundation. If it does, it will provide the opportunity to our 4-H club to do quite a few community service projects that relate to flowers, flower gardening, and container gardening from April through September 2015.