Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Time To Say Thanks




Those of you who know me already know that Thanksgiving has always been a special day for me.  You may find it surprising that its not really because of family traditions or specific memories, but simply because the purity of this holiday has been largely unsullied.  It provides an opportunity to look back upon our lives, the people and events and experiences that have shaped us and, if we take the time to do so, to pause in quiet reflection and offer sincere thanks for everyone and everything that has blessed us during our journey thus far.


Its sad that Thanksgiving is now so largely overwhelmed by the retail glare of the December holiday - in the eyes of commerce at least, merely a placeholder between Halloween and Christmas - yet traditions do continue on a personal level for so many, and it is the hope those traditions bring that I pray resound within you and yours.


We are all so busy - and the nature of the day itself sometimes brings so much hustle and bustle to cook and prepare and travel and juggle priorities - that its easy to go through the motions, eat the turkey, watch the football games and then fall asleep on the couch or drag ourselves to the next 'obligation'.


But my wish for you on this day is that you take the time to find a place of quiet solitude and close your eyes.  Let the events of your life - and especially the people - unfold before you in a diorama that is uniquely yours.  Look inside the actual events tothose moments you shared with people who really influenced and changed your life.  In many cases, you may find it was not a specific occurrence at all but a longtime association that built the memory.  In others, it will be the pure flash of blue light that occurred when suddenly the scales fell from your eyes and you saw something clearly for the first time - and became a better person for it.


There will be moments of pain during this time of reflection, but I encourage you not to dwell on those feelings - for pain is a great teacher in and of itself and even those who hurt us can sometimes help us to learn and to grow even if that was never their intent.  Pain from loss of those closest to us is also inevitable - but the bitter is also always sweet for the memories and the love it invokes even as we mourn the physical presence that will not return.  Instead, focus on the happy memories large and small and the feeling that person still evokes within you whenever you visit them in your soul.


This has not been the brightest year of my own life - yet I find myself with a multitude of things and people for which to be thankful.  Some are longtime and permanent.  Some are new, but as or more special than any I have held close to my heart for as long as I can remember.  Some things for which I am thankful might surprise you, because to the casual observer they might seem painful or difficult.  But the aspects of those events I summon in my heart are the aspects that taught me, that helped me to grow or that allowed me to savor an ongoing relationship with my father which will not be with me forever - and which needs to be celebrated and appreciated every day no mater what.


I wish these quiet moments and purity of reflection to each of you.  But then I ask you to take things one step further and to take the time to contact those people for whom you are thankful and who are still with you - to tell THEM how much they mean to you and how much they've helped you become who you are.  Don't hide your thanks - share them with those you hold in your heart.  Thank you is such a simple thing to say, yet most of us never take the time to truly stop and recognize those important to us.  Take the time and you may well be surprised at the kind responses you receive in return as well.


Finally, I ask you to take today's moments of thankfulness and to let them influence your lives in a positive manner EVERY day - to take small breaks from the commotion of daily life and to look for the blessings around you.  If times are good, this will come easily.  If times are currently less so, I guarantee that you will still find more blessings in your life than you can imagine - and the more you count, the more you will find.


Happy Thanksgiving - today and each day.  And THANK YOU for reading!

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

An Altered Perspective; A Wider View




Sometimes life teaches us lessons in ways we never expect.  And sometimes if we take what we learn too literally, we may not receive the full value of the lesson at all.  So many times as we careen through the corridors of daily existence our focus is so much on the task at hand that we don’t see the life lessons displayed before us – and if we do not sometimes take the time to step back and truly absorb what is around us, our lives are the poorer for the blinders we wear.


A few years back, the company for which I worked brought in a safety trainer in an effort to reduce the number of minor vehicle accidents in our fleet of cars for salespeople. I’ll share the instructor’s lesson with you here – try it the next time you drive and I think you’ll see it’s a simple and effective way to improve your awareness and overall safety (and I won’t even charge you $300 an hour!) – but also please take the time to read this entry to the end.


When we drive, we tend to focus – even fixate – on the vehicle in front of us.  We may think this is not necessarily a bad thing because we are alert to any sudden changes and will hopefully have time to react should an unexpected avoidance maneuver be required.  But the instructor asked everyone to look beyond what stared us in the face and to work to absorb the bigger picture.


He took a person at random and asked her to sit in a chair at the front of the room.  Then he asked her to stare into one of the corners of the room, near the ceiling.  When she did, he moved his hand partially into her field of vision.  Her eyes instinctively moved to follow his hand.  He then asked her what she saw and she replied that she saw his hand.  He asked if she also still saw the corner of the room and she truthfully replied ‘no’, because her gaze was fixated upon the closer object.  Then he asked her to shift her vision back to the corner of the room and not to allow her gaze to come back to his hand.  As she did, he began moving his hand back and forth slightly within her field of vision.  He then asked her what she saw and she replied that she saw the corner of the room, but still saw his hand moving near her.


The lesson here is that if we set our gaze at a far point down the road, we can see stopped traffic, a tight curve or other obstacles well in advance and have time to react to them – while still being able to see if the brake lights of the car in front of us come on in time for us to stop suddenly if necessary.  Conversely, if we focus simply on the vehicle in front we lose the big picture perspective and need to rely solely on our reflexes and constant attention to keep us safe.


It takes a little training to shift your gaze to the horizon – and it takes many internal reminders before this skill becomes second nature.  But the fender-bender accident rate for the people who took this course dropped over 30% in the first year after the class was held and frequent reminders were issued.



Now there are many things I’d ultimately like to convey in this journal, but driving tips really wasn’t at the top of the list - so I’ll ask you now to take this lesson and really learn from it.  While this simple shift in thinking works well in the context in which it was taught, it is also a metaphor and a lesson in how to live our lives.  Sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day routines that we focus only on the next task.  Worse, when life turns in negative directions, our vision is almost always consumed by the challenge before us and we lose the perspective of the larger whole.  And it is exactly at those times that we need to stop and raise our eyes to the horizon, still seeing the task at hand, but keeping our vision fixed on the new dawn in front of us - and not on the clouds directly overhead.  Easy to do?  Not at all.  Effective in helping us cope with the down cycles of life?  You bet – try it for yourself and see. 


And while you’re at it, the next time you’re taught something - take the time to think of that lesson in a larger context as well.  Clear your head for a moment and look tothe horizon - you may well be surprised at what you’ve really learned…….