I love living simply. I have realized that personally, I pattern my way of living after Short Ingredient Lists on food labels. It doesn't take many ingredients for food to taste delicious (take a ripe mango, for instance). It doesn't take many ingredients to feel happier in life (take LOVE ~ giving or receiving ~ for instance).
How many ingredients do we need to create a joyful, content life for ourselves and our families? Not many, if truth be told. A sample ingredient list might be:
* The choice to create happy, accepting thoughts to dispel the depressing, unhappy or judgmental ones
* The amount of stuff you're willing to have in you're home
* The size of the yard you're willing to care for
* How you serve others
* How often you allow yourself to feel offended or frustrated
* Being aware of essential things to focus on that are very important to you (like family, friends, hobbies), etc. Then, letting other distractions fall by the way side.
I have to say that the number of people that are important to me is quite long, but 'important people' is grouped as only one ingredient on my Short List. So, my list is still short.
I hope I can always remember how important it is to have a Short Ingredient List for Living. I feel much more hopeful and content when I do.
I have been using this great Gaiam DVD, "Meditation for Beginners" for a few years. I didn't like the word 'meditation' for some reason because it conjured up images from my childhood of hippies learning yoga. However, it only took me a moment to overcome my distaste for the word after I pushed the play button on this DVD because there was this really calm, normal lady sitting on beaches in Maui teaching me to breathe.
Every time I practice the simple instructions on this DVD, I feel stress melt away and I feel like I can breathe fully and deeply ~ like a sleeping baby. It is filmed in Maui, Hawaii, so the setting is relaxing. The teacher is a French woman named Maritza Spindler who explains things very clearly. The cover of the DVD says that she "shows you how to focus your mind inwardly to shed internal patterns of tension and anxiety". I agree.
Benefits of meditation? There are many:
* Feelings of WELL-BEING
* Feelings of HOPE and RENEWAL
* Shedding tension and anxiety
* More ENERGY
It only takes 20 minutes, so you might want to give it a try!
Al Jolson performing in Blackface, an unfortunate tradition, but the basis for this exquisite poem.
"Minstrel Man" is an extraordinarily poignant poem about the pain that can be hidden behind a smile. Minstrel men were popular performers in the 1900's, and generally performed in Blackface. These minstrel shows were also called "Blackface Tradition".
Blackface was a popular performance tradition for nearly 100 years in the United States and Britain, beginning around 1830. Unfortunately, Blackface proliferated racist images and social perception worldwide which is wholely unacceptable, but this exquisite poem stands alone as a universal expression of masked pain.
Minstrel Man, by Langston Hughes
Because my mouth Is wide with laughter And my throat Is deep with song, You do not think I suffer after I have held my pain So long?
Because my mouth Is wide with laughter, You do not hear My inner cry? Because my feet Are gay with dancing, You do not know I die?
My mother has always been an example of reaching out to people who are suffering, even if they put on a happy face. Somehow she has a sixth-sense and knows when to call a person at the moment they need it, or when to put an arm around someone who needs tender loving care in that instant, even if they are a stranger to her.
I hope we can become more aware of the people around us who are silently suffering. I was just reading, "What you see on the outside does not always reflect what is happening on the inside. A smile does not necessarily express happiness or pleasure. Sometimes a smile is a mask used to hide the pain within." (Bridget R. Cooks, Ph.D., untitled essay referencing "Minstrel Man").
Let's try to forget ourselves a little today and look at the people around us. We may be surprised by what we notice and how we have the power to help someone ~ even with just a smile.
If you are hurting, I pray that someone you know, or even a passing stranger, will sense what is behind your smile and offer you the kind word, the gentle touch or the hug that you need. You are lovable and deserving of every good thing.
NPR spoke with Hope Man today. Such an inspiring story of two men communicating from different sides of this war-torn border. As the crow flies they are close to each other, but the border physically divides them a world apart in this war-torn area. Both men work in tandem on a blog called "Life must go on in Gaza and Sderot". Remarkably, Hope Man writes from Sderot (Israeli side of the border), and Peace Man writes from inside Gaza.
Hope Man told NPR, "As soon as I started meeting people ~ either in person or over the phone or over e-mail ~ it created a real connection and understanding that on the other side of the border there are people who are exactly like us." He says Peace Man has told him he feels the same way.
These two have a lot of followers for their blog. The last post was January 2, and begins with the words, "The war has been going on for 6 days." Click below to go to their blog. Feel free to leave them a comment:
Hope Man told NPR today that Peace Man hasn't posted anything for a few days since this weeks Gaza invasion began, but that he had received a short text message letting him know he was okay.
One commenter, Joe, on their blog said, "Unfortunately, peace is not a switch that we can flip or a meal we can pop in the microwave (Instant Peace! Heat and Serve!); I wish it were. However, I completely agree with what you [Hope Man] said ~ peace IS possible when you take the time to learn about your "enemy" and have a dialogue with them. Our enemies are just like us ~ they breathe, they hurt, they laugh, they have family, they want their kids to be safe and grow up healthy.
The commenter continues, there is a sign in a church in Northern Ireland that stressed tolerance and understanding in a very violent and difficult part of the country. It says, "If we were born where they were born and taught what they were taught, we would believe what they believe."
The header for their blog states,
"This blog is written by 2 friends. One lives in a Sjaia refugee camp in Gaza and the other lives in Sderot, a small town near Gaza on the Israeli side. There is ongoing violence between Israel and Gaza which has intensified greatly since October 2000. Many have been killed and many have been injured. The media coverage on both sides has been extremely biased. Our Blog is written by 2 real people living and communicating on both sides of the border."
[Click here to read or listen to NPR interview with Hope Man, January 6, 2009]
Bob Hope. What a perfect last name for him. HOPE. He spent his life delivering hope to people who needed the sweet relief of humor during hard times. Bob was an entertainer extraordinaire. He flew to the front lines during FIVE wars to entertain American troops. He joked that he performed "for twelve presidents, but entertained six". He appeared on Broadway, in vaudeville and on the radio as well as in many movies. Did you know Bob HOPE had over 85,000 pages of jokes?
Here are a couple of jokes from this unstoppable humorist that made me laugh out loud:
One of Bob's favorite golfing partners is Gerald Ford, "the man who made golf a contact sport." "You all know Jerry Ford ~ the most dangerous driver since Ben Hur. Ford is easy to spot on the course. He drives the cart with the red cross painted on top. Whenever I play with him, I usually try to make it a foursome ~ the President, myself, a paramedic and a faith healer. One of my most prized possessions is the Purple Heart I received for all the golf I've played with him. "Whenever I play with Ford these days I carry 13 clubs and a white flag."
Later in his life someone asked him, "How does it feel to be almost 100, Bob?" Bob replied, "I don't feel old ~ I don't feel anything until noon. Then it's time for my nap."
She is one of the happiest people I know, so it surprised me to learn that she has worked hard at becoming so optimistic, happy, and overcoming anxieties. She told me about these books and said they have changed her life. She is a working mother with a demanding job that requires her to travel, yet she always seems grounded, calm and happy.
I'm grateful to my friend for passing on really good information.
The sound of breath is healing. Learning to use the sound of your breath can seemingly transport you to a beach while you listen to the breath-sounds of the waves retreating and returning to the shore. The sound of breath is a miraculous gift. It can help you to feel hopeful about what lies before you.
When I breathe on purpose for several minutes each day, and listen to the sound of my breath, I notice that I: have more energy, feel more alive, sleep better, have a better relationship with life's stresses, and I "shift from operating in a chronic stress mode to a mode of relaxed alertness" *.
I have a goal to breathe on purpose every day (literally my only New Year's resolution). I can't convey with words what a calming practice this is for everyone. When I cover my eyes while I breathe, and listen to the sound of my breath, I could swear I'm lying on a warm beach at night listening to the ocean with stars overhead glistening in a dark sky. If I leave my eyes uncovered, but closed, it's just as easy to feel transported to a beach in the middle of the day, feeling the sun filling me with warmth, light, and a sense of well-being.
Sometimes I feel as if the liquid ocean is inside of my head and my body is the sea shore. When I exhale, I feel the waves flow down my body and cover the sandy shore. When I inhale, the water retreats from the sand back up to the ocean in my mind.
The easiest way to hear this sound ~ the sound of the ocean ~ in your breathing is this:
* Place your hands, palm down, over your eyes, with your ring fingers and middle fingers resting softly on your closed eyelids.
* Plug your ears with each thumb.
* Listen to the sound of your breath. With practice, and experimenting with making a "Darth Vader" sound with your throat and breath (the sound of fogging up a mirror, except your mouth is closed), you will hear a sound that begins to sound more and more like the sound of the ocean.
* Do this for several minutes.
Better yet? Rest the back of your head against the back of a bathtub, or on the bottom of the tub. Let the water cover the back of your head and your ears. The sound of your breath will be amplified so much you may be surprised to find, after a minute or two, you aren't lying on a beach somewhere.
Soon, you will find that you will be breathing more deeply and creating this calm sound during the day ~ while you're walking, driving, reading. Ahh . . .
[*The Breathing Book, by Donna Farhi. Highly recommended]