There are special souls born of compassion and placed into the lives of others for a special reason. They not only see their glass as half full, they are happy to give you their half just to fill yours up.
Their gift is to give. Pleasure is found in the ability to enrich the lives of others while asking nothing in return. Their purpose is well defined by the lives they lead.
“You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.”
–Robert Louis Stevenson
In the mirror they see an ordinary person. In their actions they sense comfort and peace that only comes from following their natural path. They don’t feel as if they are special and they don’t need the recognition of others to know the value of self-worth.
They are not found on the forefront of life’s stage, they toil in the wings; their only goal to assure that all others have the performance of a lifetime.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
They generate kindness and encourage consideration for others; helping us to realize we all have our struggles and the journey we travel is difficult if attempted alone.
They don’t wait until Christmas or other holidays to give because they must breathe to live, and giving of themselves is the breaths they take each day.
“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”
-John Andrew Holmes
Holidays are great times to feel that giving spirit rejuvenated, but I like to think about how wonderful the coming year will be if that same spirit is kept alive long after the holidays are gone.
“Successful people are always looking for opportunities to help others. Unsuccessful people are always asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’”
I’ve never met a truly happy “taker.” I’ve never met a truly unhappy “giver” either. If my goal is success and happiness, it appears the intelligent road to take is the one that does not try to travel on the backs of others, but rather helps to clear the way for them to proceed.
As the New Year approaches I want to make certain I keep focus on the proven promise by a man who demonstrated its effectiveness may times over;
“You can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
Ouch. This was a rough week.
In the struggle of what I wish my life was like every day and the real life I have to deal with, real life won out by a large margin this week.
Times like this I have to go back to a very simple but favorite saying for encouragement, “They say it gets better in the end, so if it’s not getting better, it must not be the end!”. I’m not sure who “they” are, but I hope they have the wisdom of the ages to back up that prediction.
I strive to maintain a level mood, and most days I am very successful. I do this by drifting back to places like the picture above. This was taken on a small lake in North Carolina. I wandered out on this dock as the sun began to set over a very calm water. No wind. No sound. No distractions but my own thoughts. I was alone and void of pressure from outside. It required me to focus on letting myself get just as calm on the inside. This helps me remember that inner peace is something I can really get used to.
So much goes on around me every day that can really put a hurting on my emotional stability. Like others around me, I have to deal with illogical people; people who are smarter in their heads than they are in real life; people who challenge my integrity and my sanity at the same time. Add to that the noise of everyday living, the pressures I let others put upon me, and internal strife that I carry as baggage from the past; Kaboom. If I let it all have a piece of my soul, there will never be any left for me.
So I can’t let that happen.
I find my “dock” like the one above. I take a few minutes and realize that the only person I have to answer to every day is myself. I need to step back, breathe deeply and let out the frustration that comes along in dealing with other beings. We all have our daily battles. I am not alone and can’t survive by always being focused on just my struggles without taking a moment to identify my part in keeping these struggles alive, and how I chose to get caught up in group angst.
I need to ask myself: Am I trying the hardest I can to do the best with what I have and who I have to work with? Do I look to find the common goals I might have even with those who are selfishly only looking out for their own interests every day? Can I do something to make the people around me happier and try to improve my environment by improving theirs? Do I try to change the things I can’t and create my own internal struggles in the process?
This week I need to spend a few more hours sitting on the dock. I need to flush the poison of emotional sabotage from my system and breathe back in the realization that I don’t need to let others pick away at my soul. They can chose to do that to themselves, but not to me. My goal will never be to help them self destruct, but always just to help them get into a better place when I can.
I will get up tomorrow and do what I am able and as long as the end of the day lets me lay my head back down with my integrity and my character intact; I’ll be ready to do it again the next tomorrow that I may be granted access to.
For a photographer, every time the seasons change we are presented with the opportunity to record it in digital admiration. Summer is good for green and thunderstorms and outdoor action. Winter is good for black and white and high contrast pictures; ice and snow and crisp mornings. The spring time brings new growth and colorful flowers, gentle rain and windy fields of flowing grass. The Fall, though. Wow. Trees compete to see which can show off the most spectacular transformation and present us with shows that rival broken clouds in vibrant summer beach sunsets. The picture above was taken a few days ago while flying over the Great Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. The one below was snapped while wandering through those same mountains last year at this time.
For a few precious days the colors are amazing and mesmerizing and emotion-creating…and then just as suddenly as they appeared, they are gone for another year. The leaves fall to the ground and the naked trees are left just standing in perhaps a bewildered embarrassment before they go to sleep. They must then wait patiently for mother nature to wake them up and tell them it’s time to get dressed and get back to providing shade once again.
Although the colors are spectacular, as they go away so does my excited spirit. This time of year tends to be more melancholy as I feel the changes from warm and bright to dull and white.
But my mood is mine to control. If I don’t take an active role in what direction is wants to take, it will pull me down quickly. I start to dwell on the cold of last winter or the somber visions of grey boney trees.
So I pull out the colorful pictures and use them to remind me of the things I have to look forward to and rekindle the memories of the bright and warm days I know are still possible.
Sometimes I need to do this with my personal goals as well. I lose my focus on the end-game I am striving for and allow myself to get distracted when the changing scenery around me starts to become less than spectacular. I get pulled down by the memory of past failures and dwell on flaws.
In the same way I use the pictures to boost my spirits I can use the past successes to keep me motivated towards my goals. I reflect on the many challenges I faced head on in the past and realize that I am who I am and where I am because of the tenacity needed to keep going.
I recall that one of the key character traits that distinguishes those who are successful in life from those who are not is that those who succeed will always get up again when they miss their mark. They don’t always reach their goals or get to expected outcomes. They just never stop trying.
If I stop when I fail, I chose to remain identified by that failure as my last act. I make a decision to be unsuccessful.
Once I get up and try again I immediately move back to the category of a potential achiever. My past becomes my past. I don’t need to drag it along to the future with me. Although it will always be part of who I am, those times when I was less than stellar do not become my prime source of identification.
I will be successful right up until the day I decide not to be.
The air is crisp and biting as it grasps at the light fog that travels through the tall stands of majestic trees. They proudly keep watch as their ancestors have done for hundreds of years; guarding the path of the water below. The quiet is broken only by the low roar of the falls and the sound of the river as it travels it course; keenly directed by its banks and purposeful in motion. At the top of the falls it almost seems to rush in excitement to the edge and bounce along with joy to the waiting pool below. There, fine fingers of mist try to climb the walls in the hopes of running the gauntlet once again, only to be picked up by the wind and tossed playfully along, quenching the thirst of the plants that hang on with anticipation and turn their leaves up to the cool, comforting moisture that envelops them.
I watch this river, and I am envious of the journey. I imagine the excitement of being able to travel with such purpose and guided direction, but also with constant anticipation of the unknown ahead. I relish the excitement generated by the falling water and the fun it has sliding over the smooth helpful stones.
Such a expedition is mesmerizing. I contemplate how each day I would awaken and drink in new surroundings; it would change the person I become. On this type of path my future would be assured to develop itself tremendously different than the course I considered a year, a week, or even a day ago.
So why can’t I live this way? During my muddled existence every day, doesn’t each new adventure or obstacle encountered create new character traits to master? Somehow, I must learn to appreciate the opportunity afforded me with each new sunrise and eagerly embrace my voyage with the same enthusiasm that the river takes to its course. I need to jump off the waterfalls of life with the confidence of knowing there is a waiting pool of refreshing water to break my fall; pushing me down life’s river to see what might be waiting around the next bend.
♦Photo Tip♦ Framing your subject helps to guide the eyes in a photo. This can be accomplished with anything that provides a “border” to the picture, and does not mean it has to be present on all sides of the picture. In the photo above, a large tree is used to frame one side of the composition, while also providing some added depth to the picture. It is important not to get stuck thinking that framing always has to be something that provides a straight line. Shrubs, symmetrical clouds on the horizon, a road sign, the side of a barn…realize that being creative is the most important aspect to keep in mind when looking through the viewfinder or at your screen.
Not too long ago I was driving through Tennessee and came across a field of southern snow. It was white and expansive and from a distance looked like a bunch of small shrubs covered with icy white stuff. Of course, it wasn’t really snow, and I knew what it really was, but it was pretty to look at nonetheless.
I pulled over and stepped out into the thorny field to survey the white puffs of soft cotton. This was my first real close-up encounter with pre-clothing. I felt moved by what I saw (which is a prerequisite for me to capture pixels in the form of a photograph) and started taking pictures like the one above.
Cotton starts as a simple little seed and grows into the plants that produce bolls which contain the cotton fibers. Although there are a number of types of cottons, they all grow very similarly to become the plants that give up the fibers. From that point, what a handful of soft cotton becomes varies greatly.
Don’t stop reading yet. I promise not to bore you with too many more details…and I do have a reason for going down this path.
Some cotton is absorbent, other types not so much. The seeds can be pressed to produce cottonseed oil, and the remains fed to cattle for roughage. The cotton hulls are used as feed, fertilizer, fuel, and packing materials. Once cotton is spun into thread, it becomes a shirt, pants, socks, blended with other natural or synthetic fibers, a rope, a bag, shoes, a hat, and even automotive tire cords in some older tires. The list goes on and on.
As I pondered the life of a cotton pod I realized that people are like that too. We start off very similar on the day we are born. We may have different environments that we are born into, but we all have the chance of becoming many different things. Our advantage over the life of cotton; we typically get to pick or at least influence our direction. We have a chance to set goals and work for what we want to become. I may not reach all my goals, but each day I wake up I get to decide if I want to work toward my those goals or not.
I wonder if I take full advantage of my options every day. I wonder if I am using my full potential every chance I get. Do I have a clear picture of what I want to accomplish with the time I have or do I spend more time bouncing around aimlessly? What a waste it will be to get to the end of my days and look back with a regret that I foolishly squandered too many of my gifted days. I have to be more careful with my passing 86,400 seconds I get each time the sun comes up.
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The sound of rushing water becomes almost hypnotic; the steady rhythm of wet dripping notes pounding out on rock drums far below. A cooling mist blows from the falls as the energy of the descending water creates its own wind. Painted ferns dance to the music and shine in the kaleidoscope of sunbeams bouncing around on natures stage.
I sit in the quiet company of elder trees and listen. My thoughts turn to the words of an ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river and he is not the same man.”
Heraclitus was big on change. In his writings, he spends a lot of time contemplating and philosophizing on what would be termed in present day as “Universal Flux.” Some attribute another famous saying to him, “the only thing constant in life is change.” I believe in many instances this quote holds true. Change. A difficult and vast contemplation for sure.
I’m not big on change. I’m glad for opportunity to see the changing river flow, the change of the seasons, or the downward change in the price of gas; but when it comes to me and my life, my excitement for change quickly wanes in most professional circumstances.
Resting on a fallen log in natures den, I breathe in the forest air, strong in scent of woody pine. I know that to shy from change sets the foundation for stopping progress, for without embracing the new, we are stuck with the old and the evolution needed for success is cut down in its prime. I realize that change means moving forward into the unknown. Perhaps it’s not the idea of change that causes my angst, but this idea of the unknown. Change will, many times, actually be a good thing and bring about a positive movement for the future. But can the unknown ever provide the same confident look into tomorrow?
Under the shimmering water of the flowing stream beside me sit multicolored rocks smooth from the constant polishing of the every changing river. The rocks don’t move much without considerable force, and yet even sitting still they are impacted by the water moving over and around them.
Sometimes I’m a rock. Sometimes I will just sit still and yet will continue to find myself being influenced and moved by the world going by around me. Sometimes the world pushes a little harder and I have no choice but to move in the same direction. The world is ignorant to my wishes, and I am forced to adapt with some change. But even as I am forced to change, I am guided down a path that is full of unknown and the question remains; how do I get comfortable with what is coming that I can’t see?
A large pine cone drops solidly beside me with a loud, “Thump!” I’m startled. I didn’t know that was going to happen. My heart rate jumps and my sense of awareness is heightened. More unknown.
I don’t think I have to necessarily be OK with the unknown. I think being a little on edge about what comes next in my tomorrow or even in my next few moments will help me focus more on being present in each of them as they are passing. I’m already aware that time will continue with or without me. I can’t influence it at all. To be the best person I can, I have to pay attention. I have to maintain awareness of what goes on around me. I must make certain that I remain as prepared as I can for what happens next, but not spend so much energy worrying about it that it consumes my ability to be fully present in the “right now” moments as they occur.
What are you thoughts on this philosophical quandary; Is change good? Is the unknown to be feared? If a large pine cone were to fall in the woods and I wasn’t there to get startled by it, would it still make a sound?
♦Photo Tip♦ One of my favorite ways to photograph water and waterfalls is with a slow enough shutter speed set to let the glowing smooth water gather a visual motion. There are a few things that will help make your same water pictures turn out the best they can. A good, steady tripod is really a must for tack sharp pictures with the slow speed shutter. You want to try and get a shutter speed that is slow enough to smooth the falling water, but fast enough so you don’t blow out the whites with over exposure. For most waterfalls, the tumbling drops will start to blend around 1/30th of a second or slower. The time of day, angle of the sun, and weather will all impact what settings work best, so don’t be afraid to take lots of pictures with different set ups until you find the one that works for your current environment. If you have the ability to take bracketed exposures you can really make these photos pop. If you’re not sure how that works, just stay tuned to this blog and we’ll get to it sometime I’m certain!