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.”
The elderly man shuffles slowly down a deserted street, fatigue weighing heavily on his shoulders. The broom he pushes falls without ceremony to the ground as he grabs to his hat. Gusting wind sends old paper wrappers and an empty can clanking down the empty street before it. Cigarette butts litter the sidewalk, mixed with confetti and slowly dying balloons. The dampness from a recent rain brings up the musty smell of wet cardboard into the air, rising from the nearby alleyway clogged with old boxes and burdened with evidence of population overload.
Two days ago it was impossible to walk this same path without being jostled about by the crowd. Not today. The holiday is passed and the parade is over. What was festive is now dull and lifeless with little to celebrate but the triumph of one more block to clean and the knowledge that another days work will be offered. The gentleman picks up his broom from where it fell, adjusts his hat and starts the repetitive motion of pushing filth once again.
Sometimes work is just that. Work. According to the Deloitte Shift Report in 2013, a whopping 89% of the workforce is not passionate about their jobs. 11% responded that they felt passionate about what they did for a living. Only 11%. Ouch.
I tried to be passionate a few times, but work got in the way. Too many people whose passion is themselves and they pay for it at the expense of others. I still hold onto promise and search regularly for the passion to make tomorrow’s work a focus of desire and not just a necessity. I need the hope. One day I hope not to need the job.
In the interim, I take pictures and reflect on the moments they capture. I use the memories of frozen pixels as a handhold to lift me from the struggles of today into the hopefulness of tomorrow. I see the storms of life and know they too shall pass, usually with a powerful sunset and the refreshing calmness that following a summer thunderstorm. I stare into the calm waters and see the reflection of clouds moving to their next adventure. I wait patiently for my next adventure as well.
The street sweeper continues to push his broom, knowing the next parade will someday come and go with celebration and fanfare. I will continue to find the reflections of optimism in the pictures I take and we will both wake tomorrow with a renewed sense of purpose.
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.
Comfortably resting on a sturdy branch high above the forest floor, I surveyed the nature scape that surrounded me. Life was simple. I provided shade for the creatures below me and turned sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar energy for my tree while happily making oxygen. Those were easy days, hanging out in the sunshine.
Easy I should say, until that day everything changed. I went to sleep a leaf and dreamed I was a starfish. When I awoke, I had fallen from my tree and landed in a puddle. The experience was exhilarating, but now I’m wet and cold and want to be back where I belong. I fear that things will never be the same again.
Life is full of surprises. Especially if you are a leaf and unprepared for the changing seasons; but us human types have to be on our toes as well.
I know that my whole world can change in the blink of an eye. I can’t plan for every contingency, but I can learn to adapt to those surprises when they do present. The years of surprises and unexpected change have taught me that having the right attitude is just about the most important part of being prepared.
My attitude is one of the only things that I have complete control of every day. Circumstances and the world around me can bring changes in the weather, changes to my plans, and present me with new and exciting challenges every day.
But no one can affect my attitude without me allowing them to.
I used to make statements about how others made me mad, until I came to the realization that no one on earth has the ability to control my emotions other than me. Period. Others can act in a manner that has the potential to upset me, but happy, sad, or mad; all these are ultimately mine to decide and mine to control unless I give up that power to someone else.
…and between you and me; I don’t want to give that much power and control over my day and my spirit to anyone…
I am not a big fan of surprises and I don’t like to be upset any more than I have to so I work to face my challenges on an even keel. Sure, I still get angry and I still get sad, but I let myself feel those emotions when I want to or I feel I need to; not because someone else decided to try and ruin my day.
The leaf in our photo had a life changing event and now has to deal with it. Life in the tree is gone, but playing starfish for a while may turn out to be the next best thing.
I believe that if I control my attitude I maintain control of my satisfaction with life and I remain ready to take on the next best thing that shows up for me as well.
The symphony of nature can be wonderful to hear. The melody is everywhere. Gentle cresting waves lapping onto an otherwise quiet southern beach. The single cricket playing a first chair solo in a distant wheat field. The chorus of bull frogs who echo their a capella rhythm across great distances on a hot summer evening. The sound of the wind as it plays through the swaying pines on cool spring morning. A serenade of rain drops across a tin roof with echoes of thunder rumbling in the distance. Nature conducts the tune in the chords of its character.
If your life was added to the music already playing around you, in what chord would it be played? I think mine would be E minor.
Major chords are just so happy. They resonate with fortitude, strength, and determination. They announce their entrance and need no resolution before moving to the next gusto of vibrato. I guess that there are days my life could be a major chord. Those days when I have no choice but to stand and deliver what is expected of me. Those days when everything is falling into place with precision and timing. Those days I could pull off living in the spirit of a major chord.
Minor chords are much more moody, though. They tend to convey contemplation, a more somber emotion, and evoke a melancholy reply. They sound the call of the mystery and mark time for curiosity. They don’t always need resolution, but they can draw out a strong anticipation for the upcoming tone. I think my life would be played in a minor chord; lost for periods in thoughtful consideration of what transpires around me, always feeling hope that the next note played will lift the tempo and the mood. Sometime life is so much of a mystery that a minor scale is all I can manage.
I have to be careful, though. I wouldn’t want to let myself fall out of tune and wander into the company of diminished chords; they can be unsettling. They create tension and emotional confusion, they long to be followed by a major chord, or even a transitional minor chord as they hang on the scale. No, my life is definitely not a diminished chord.
Why does any of this matter? Plato said it best, “[Music] gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and adds charm and happiness to everything”. The song of my life has meaning. The concert started long ago. I am allowed an occasional intermission to gather my thoughts, but the show must go on.
It is important to me that when the curtain closes on the symphony of my life, I want the audience to feel as if they have not wasted their time or money on the ticket for the show I provided. I do not get the benefit of an encore on this earth so I have to do my best the first time around. I am not sure what movement or act I might be on, but it is time to perform once again!
The quote above is one of my favorites, and comes from an author born in South Africa who grew up in England. He set out to write a children’s book and ended up with a series that became one of the most popular reads in the entire world for young and old alike.
That success story alone inspires me, but the essence of the quote is even more encouraging. Written for the series, this quote appears in a number of the books. I like to think of it as a good life-theme even today, especially if you include lines from an earlier rendition:
Not all that have fallen are vanquished;
a king may yet be without crown,
A blade that was broken be brandished;
and towers that were strong may fall down
Subject to individual interpretation, I like to consider the idea that guidance to a pleasant life comes in many forms. While I don’t take quotes and stories and use them to direct my paths I do believe that the insight of others on the ways of the world are worth investigation to add wisdom to personal experience.
I am kindred to the line, “All who wander are not lost”. Many times in my life I wandered with purpose and intent but not a straight path to follow. Still, I feel comfortable taking the idea a level higher to say, “Most who wander actually are lost, but for some of us, it’s by design.” There are many occasions I would say I end up not quite sure where I am on this journey. Sometimes that fact becomes a problem. Sometimes it seems to work in my favor. Most times I’m OK with it, and so I wander some more. By taking crooked paths to reach my goals and occasionally allowing the structure around me to crumble from the planning, it provides a more varied perspective on life, opens new doors, and reveals unplanned adventures.
I think goals are important, but I never want to be so focused on the goal that I lose the benefit of the travels I take to reach them. The experience grants me wisdom. The goal is just a terminus with a fresh start awaiting as I plan for the next one.
There are too many days when I wake up and jump right into the news. I open up the paper and get bombarded with very little information that seems joyous. It tends to cloud my judgment and can even sour my day. I’m not sure why I am, like many others, drawn to bad news and tragedy.
What makes this even worse, is the tendency to start to view the world as a bad place full of bad people. I stereotype by geography and profile by association. In turn, I start to interact with the small world parts that I touch with a sense of caution and suspicion.
But I know there is a way to make the day better. From the mouth of a leader known for his focus on non-violence and peace, Mahatma Gandhi, comes very sage advice. His message is clear; “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty”
When I crafted the picture that accompanies this post, I was trying to show the frailty of the argument that I can’t assume to see the whole world when all I have to look at is a part no bigger than a single drop of water. I have to look beyond the dirt and the grime that can cover me in daily news. Every once in a while I need to wash off the grit that obscures my vision and let my eyes see a much cleaner view of what surrounds me.
Dewitt Jones, a well know photographer for National Geographic has promoted a great way to see each day with what he calls, “Celebrate What’s Right with the World.” It’s a fantastic blog and a great way to stay reminded of the good things that make this world a great place to be.
I am going to try and celebrate more good; so I can better handle things when the bad creeps back in.
♦Photo Tip♦ I like to think that creativity is the cornerstone of fun photography. Like not being afraid to laugh out loud, or dance in the rain– photography should be allowed to reflect who you are not who you think others want you to be. I take pictures that I never touch after the shutter snaps and I have pictures that through the magic of Photoshop resemble little of the original. I use photography to express emotion and capture moments in time that need to be preserved. Don’t be afraid to get creative!
Before we begin today’s blog discussion…please take a moment and enjoy the picture above. The simple panorama of a forest, filled with a mix of young small trees and slightly larger ones. The ground is a carpet of gentle flowing ferns. Imagine the cool air that surrounds you. Take a deep breath and smell the fresh pine scented air; crisp and clean. The quietness is very loud here and in the distance you can just make out the faint sounds of a small stream journeying down the mountain in search of the sea. This is a great place to contemplate the importance of perspective.
I like to think that I am a pretty intuitive person. I would venture a guess that most of us feel the same way. I am in touch with my surroundings. I understand the plight that my fellow travelers contend with every day and feel I have insight to their trials and tribulations. I am only judgmental in my thoughts and sometimes in my actions because I know so much about what goes on around me…or maybe I don’t.
I know from basic psychology and common sense that there are only two real dynamic influences for my behaviors; the situational factors (or external and environmental) I am responding to, and my disposition (or internal; my own biases or perceptions).
We also know from studies of human nature that how we tend to see the world is reflective of how we see ourselves.
If I am going to be completely honest, I tend to lose perspective in most situations with others and only consider the situation; the external influences. In doing so, I lose the opportunity to consider what might be going on internally to the people and behaviors I so quickly judge. When they act in a manner I don’t like do I ever consider what they might be dealing with instead of just how their behavior affect me? As the old adage goes; perhaps I’m so focused on the trees that I can’t see the whole forest around me.
Like the picture above. Here is another shot taken in the same spot:
That’s me standing in front of a 2500 year old giant redwood tree. Now go back and look at the first picture again. A forest of giant redwoods. Different perspective, different story.
I think about getting cut off in traffic. My thought always jumps to making judgements about the character and motivation of the person in the car or truck that cut me off and it is always focused on how they somehow just did ME wrong and how that makes ME feel. I tend to get angry.
But what if they were distracted because they just received some terrible news? What if they were excited about heading to the airport to pick up their son returning from the war? What if, what if, what if? So many possible reasons for them cutting me off and none of them really had anything to do with ME. Sure, they should be more careful and they should pay better attention, but in the big picture world; I was paying attention and no harm came from the interaction. We could both just move on with our day.
I think it is time to take things from a different perspective and I just bet it will allow me to have a better day.
The dampness of the misty morning settles as dew on the petals of the perfect yellow rose. Sunrise reflects across the garden and blushes red through the clouds of the night storm that swept the hillside. I reflect on the magnificence of the perfect rose as the aroma of their sweet fragrance lifts from the surrounding flowers and fills the air with scented happiness.
With ancestry reaching deep into history, the rose is drenched in symbolism. Once considered for currency and always sought after for their beauty, the yellow rose in particular is held out for happiness and friendship. Perhaps it is the likeness the yellow rose has to the radiating sunshine that can warm a hard heart or pull the chill from a stale, cold room.
This rose was found among many in a special garden dedicated to roses from around the world and rich in tradition. I felt compelled to capture the image of the droplets on the face of the flower just as the sun reached over a nearby tree to bath it in its brilliance.
It made me smile.
I realized as I moved in close to take the picture that many times I walked by this same scene and paid it no attention. I stood tall and walked quickly and missed the chance to take part in the mini drama of happiness playing out so very close to my own life drama of not-so-happy-ness.
There is the old cliché; “always take time to stop and smell the roses,” which I know we all have heard. But how many times do we let everything else take precedent and push the rose smelling to the bottom of the list? For me; it’s often.
This week I am going to try harder to enjoy the small things that happen closer to earth than my mind lets me wander most days. I love to have my head in the clouds, but the yellow roses are calling to my sensibilities and the desperate need to slow down, take a deep breath, and be present in the moment rather than trying so hard to figure out what the next moment might bring.
Stop and smell the happiness and bend down to notice the vision of relaxation.
♦Photo Tip♦ So many times we stand up tall and lean back to take pictures of landscapes and groups and forests and wide open spaces. The pictures are beautiful and the subjects so majestic. But don’t forget to move in close sometimes. Stop looking around and start looking down, way down. Find the small subjects that so many of us miss and take their picture so you can share them with those of us who move too fast through the world to realize that there are small things around us that are just as important and just as beautiful to capture in photo-form.