Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Your Everest

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

Everyone has an Everest. Whether it’s a climb you chose, or a circumstance you find yourself in, you’re in the middle of an important journey. Can you imagine a climber scaling the wall of ice at Everest’s Lhotse Face and saying, “This is such a hassle”? Or spending the first night in the mountain’s “death zone” and thinking, “I don’t need this stress”? The climber knows the context of his stress. It has personal meaning to him; he has chosen it. You are most liable to feel like a victim of the stress in your life when you forget the context the stress is unfolding in. “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest” is a way to remember the paradox of stress. The most meaningful challenges in your life will come with a few dark nights.

The biggest problem with trying to avoid stress is how it changes the way we view our lives, and ourselves. Anything in life that causes stress starts to look like a problem. If you experience stress at work, you think there’s something wrong with your job. If you experience stress in your marriage, you think there’s something wrong with your relationship. If you experience stress as a parent, you think there’s something wrong with your parenting (or your kids). If trying to make a change is stressful, you think there’s something wrong with your goal.

When you think life should be less stressful, feeling stressed can also seem like a sign that you are inadequate: If you were strong enough, smart enough, or good enough, then you wouldn’t be stressed. Stress becomes a sign of personal failure rather than evidence that you are human. This kind of thinking explains, in part, why viewing stress as harmful increases the risk of depression. When you’re in this mindset, you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

Choosing to see the connection between stress and meaning can free you from the nagging sense that there is something wrong with your life or that you are inadequate to the challenges you face. Even if not every frustrating moment feels full of purpose, stress and meaning are inextricably connected in the larger context of your life. When you take this view, life doesn’t become less stressful, but it can become more meaningful.

Kelly McGonigal, The Upside of Stress, p. 86-87

[Photo: Berg Goldeck, above Spittal an der Drau, Austria, July 29, 1998]

Loving Life

Wednesday, May 16th, 2018

Very few of us love life enough… Most of us allow small things to get in the way of our enjoyment of life, and we get into the habit of not seeing all the wonderful things that are in our lives. I see this bad habit start at a very early age. When I see a young child who is not getting their own way, I will sometimes see them suck in the love-of-life energy. It doesn’t normally last long with a young child, though, and within a few minutes I will see this energy burst forth again.

As an adult, if we are not used to letting this energy burst forth, it may take us a little longer to remember how to do it. The more conscious you become of loving life, the more you build up this energy, which helps you physically and mentally.

It is important to bring love of life to the work you are doing, whatever it is. You don’t have to love the job — it may be far short of what you aspire to — but when you approach it with love of life, you will be able to enjoy it, do a good job, and make the best of any opportunities it brings.

— Lorna Byrne, Love from Heaven, p. 110-111

[Photo: Keukenhof, Holland, April 17, 2004]

Values and Stress

Sunday, May 6th, 2018

Since that first study, dozens of similar experiments have followed. It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied. In the short term, writing about personal values makes people feel more powerful, in control, proud, and strong. It also makes them feel more loving, connected, and empathetic toward others. It increases pain tolerance, enhances self-control, and reduces unhelpful rumination after a stressful experience.

In the long term, writing about values has been shown to boost GPAs, reduce doctor visits, improve mental health, and help with everything from weight loss to quitting smoking and reducing problem drinking. It helps people persevere in the face of discrimination and reduces self-handicapping. In many cases, these benefits are a result of a onetime mindset intervention. People who write about their values once, for ten minutes, show benefits months or even years later.

Why is this one small mindset intervention so powerful? Stanford psychologists Geoffrey Cohen and David Sherman analyzed over fifteen years’ worth of studies on this mindset intervention and concluded that the power of writing about values is in how it transforms how you think about stressful experiences and your ability to cope with them. When people are connected to their values, they are more likely to believe that they can improve their situation through effort and the support of others. That makes them more likely to take positive action and less likely to use avoidant coping strategies like procrastination or denial. They also are more likely to view the adversity they are going through as temporary, and less likely to think that the problem reveals something unalterably screwed up about themselves or their lives.

Over time, this new mindset builds on itself, and people begin to see themselves as the kind of person who overcomes difficulties. Cohen and Sherman call this a “narrative of personal adequacy.” In other words, when you reflect on your values, the story you tell yourself about stress shifts. You see yourself as strong and able to grow from adversity. You become more likely to approach challenges than to avoid them. And you are better able to see the meaning in difficult circumstances.

— Kelly McGonigal, The Upside of Stress, p. 70-71

[Photo: Stirling Castle, Scotland, July 2003]

Practice

Thursday, May 3rd, 2018

This openhanded, teachable attitude is what is implied in the word practice. Inherent in this word is the freedom to experiment, to try and try again with limitless humility to fail. Practice makes perfect, but the practice itself is not perfect. Practice is a patient, related process of finding out what works and what doesn’t. Practice leaves plenty of room for making mistakes; indeed mistakes are taken for granted. In practice it goes without saying that any success is only the fruit of many failures. Hence the failure is as important as the success, for the one could not happen without the other.

Many people avoid practice because of the fear of failure. Perfectionists have the mistaken idea that something is not worth doing if they cannot look good by getting it right the first time. For the perfectionist, any misstep is an unpleasant and embarrassing surprise. But for a humble person, the surprise is getting it right. Humility expects trial and error and so rejoices all the more at success. Humility is always being surprised by grace.

Either life is practice, or it is performance. It cannot be both. Do you love surprises, or do you prefer to stay in control? Are you a professional at life or an amateur? Do you live spontaneously and experimentally for the sheer love of it? Or are you an expert who takes pride in being right about everything? Would you rather be right than happy?

None of us can be perfect. But everyone can be free. Which will you choose?

— Mike Mason, Practicing the Presence of People, p. 180-181

[Photo: Dahn, Germany, July 1997]

Out of the Sin-Accounting Business

Friday, April 13th, 2018

I was stunned that Good Friday by this familiar but foreign story of Jesus’ last hours, and I realized that in Jesus, God had come to dwell with us and share our human story. Even the parts of our human story that are the most painful. God was not sitting in heaven looking down at Jesus’ life and death and cruelly allowing his son to suffer. God was not looking down on the cross. God was hanging from the cross. God had entered our pain and loss and death so deeply and took all of it into God’s own self so that we might know who God really is. Maybe the Good Friday story is about how God would rather die than be in our sin-accounting business anymore.

The passion reading ended, and suddenly I was aware that God isn’t feeling smug about the whole thing. God is not distant at the cross and God is not distant in the grief of the newly motherless at the hospital; but instead, God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us. There simply is no knowable answer to the question of why there is suffering. But there is meaning. And for me that meaning ended up being related to Jesus — Emmanuel — which means “God with us.” We want to go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.

— Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix, p. 86

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, April 12, 2015]

What I’m Meant to Do

Thursday, April 5th, 2018

A life of joy rests upon the discovery of what I, and I alone, am meant to do and then doing it with all my heart.

— Mike Mason, Champagne for the Soul, p. 59

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 21, 2014]

He Is Risen!

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

Verse for Easter:

[Photo: South Riding, Virginia, March 31, 2018]

A Day for Dancing

Friday, January 26th, 2018

Today is a day for dancing the great dance of life. Whatever is given to you, make the most of it. Whatever is given to you, dance and celebrate, find the joy in it.

— Chuck Spezzano, If It Hurts It Isn’t Love, p. 283.

True Salvation

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

The notion that the salvation of Jesus is a salvation from the consequences of our sins is a false notion. The salvation of Christ is salvation from the smallest tendency or leaning to sin. It is a deliverance into the pure air of God’s ways of thinking and feeling. It is a salvation that makes the heart pure, with the will and choice of the heart to be pure.

To such a heart, sin is disgusting. It sees a thing as it is — that is, as God sees it, for God sees everything as it is. Jesus did not die to save us from punishment. He was called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins.

— George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons, Third Series, “Justice,” quoted in Discovering the Character of God, compiled and edited by Michael R. Phillips, p. 262.

Work as to the Lord

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.

— Dorothy L. Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine, p. 127-128, quoted in Called to Create, by Jordan Raynor, p. 51.