The Gift of Life

What would the world be like were the appropriate response to be given in every circumstance by every person?

Some might argue that life in such a world would be bland, free of the friction, dissonance, and drama that makes life “interesting.” Others might dread such a state, fearing the level of responsibility that would have to be assumed for it to become a reality. My own impression is that the world created would be much more caring, reverent, and safe than the world we have created for ourselves using a lower standard.

Forget grandiose thoughts of what the world would be like for a moment. What would your life be like were you to respond appropriately more often than you do now? For starters, you’d probably regret less, forgive more, and be more at peace. It’s probably safe to safe that you would be a more agreeable person to be around on your “bad” days and those days would occur less often. I imagine, too, that the negative aspects of your personality and as a result your reputation, would slowly but surely be recast in a more positive light.

The next obvious question, if you agree with what I’ve said so far, “where do I start?” Now to my mind, no matter how wonderful or terrible your life has been up to this point, you have been given the greatest gift a person could be given: the gift of life. Even if you are having a bad day, week, month or decade, that gift is constantly being given to you. Were it not, you wouldn’t be there thinking about it, would you?

Now you don’t have to live very long to know that receiving this gift with ingratitude, disdain, bitterness, complaint, and a host of other negative attitudes is likely to send you and your life and your relationships tumbling downward. Nobody really wants that, though hundreds of millions of people have found themselves on that slippery slope through the ages, despite the fact that it is completely unnecessary to spend your life in a state of perpetual misery or in the fear of impending doom.

There really is only one appropriate response to the gift of life: appreciation. No matter what comes your way, you can first give thanks for the privilege of the gift of life. From there you can give that gift to others. When you stop beating the world around you on the head to set them straight, you quickly find that appreciation works far better at greasing and opening locked and closed hearts than the other, more hurtful alternatives like anger, pettiness, disdain, disparagement, and so on.

Where the underlying attitude is appreciation, there is no room for “he said, she said”, no need for barricades and barrages, no need to throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. Appreciation is the high stance in which you can acknowledge differences without sacrificing commonalities.

The next time you are faced with a situation, conversation, or thought that triggers a tightening of your heart, consider these words and this approach. Take whatever time you need (there is typically more time available than you might think) to bring to focus your appreciation for something, anything so that you can be light on your toes from the start, rather than digging your heels in and preparing for a fight. I guarantee, without qualification that this will change the course of history for you, if not for the world.

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The Wheels of Progress

How you handle the successes in your life is just as important as how you handle the failures. You’ve no doubt watched someone who had a habit of squandering the momentum generated by one or more successes. They go up and down like a yo-yo, never moving upward on the ascending spiral of eternal progress. The promise of upward movement is quickly rejected, that is, they move up the spiral slightly, but just as soon as they do they either get fearful or cocksure and waste the momentum on some trivial, or worse, damaging pursuit.

Some even go so far as to make this a strategy in living. They convince themselves that they have been “good” and then indulge in a “bad” thing or two using the logic that they’ve earned it or deserve it. This sense of entitlement gets a lot of people into a lot of trouble. This habit often shows up in relation to dietary choices, but it also effects, or should I say infects daily decision making about relationships, attitudes taken towards others, and money.

If you try to act “good” to build up a bank account so that you can indulge in your favorite peccadillos, you will invariably stop the momentum you’ve generated. You may even go backwards! Righteousness, that is, doing the right thing for the sake of being right, is a no-strings-attached state of being. If you do right out of a concern to get something, you will fail. It always backfires.

Others do this unconsciously. They go through a good patch and because of a lack of self-worth, a conviction of eventual failure, or a basic mistrust in life itself, they wait in their heart or the recesses of their mind for the other shoe to drop. They refuse to open themselves to the possibility of eternal progress because it flies in the face of their deeper beliefs in things like Murphy’s Law (i.e. if anything can go wrong it will…and to me). This stubborn stance closes the window of opportunity that was opened by the success they were having and they stand there with their backs to the window saying “See, I told you so!”

When people feel good about themselves, they tend to get sloppy in their decision-making. Have you ever read about someone who won the lottery? That momentary success tends to breed a whole litter of failure that quickly devours the lives of the so-called “winners.” Have you ever watched a person on a meteoric rise to stardom? It’s rarely a pretty sight. The problem isn’t going fast; the trouble comes when you live life fast and loose.

It’s easy I suppose to analyze or criticize others in this regards, so, enough about them…what about you? What do you do with the little and large successes you have? Do you hold and protect them, nurture them, study them, and learn from them so that you can build on them? Do you treat the momentum as you would a ski jumper whose successful completion of the next jump depends upon his wise and judicious use of the momentum generated from the last? Or do you put on the brakes and start skidding to a halt out of fear or do a wild victory dance as you’re approaching the next jump and find yourself out of position when the next challenge comes along?

I am not saying that you shouldn’t celebrate, but I am saying that the momentum you generate should be handled with great care if you wish to continue in the direction you began moving (i.e. upward) when you have a victory, be it big or small. Relationships, careers, and lives are made and broken on this basis. If you want to live your life by fits and starts, then, by all means waste that momentum. If not, you’ll have to watch more closely when you start moving up the spiral.

Eternal progress is possible. It is within your reach, but you must let yourself be open to it. That’s really half the battle. From there you will begin to discover the fulfillment which comes with doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. You’ll stop bargaining “good” for “bad” in your life and more importantly, you’ll stomp out the little fires of self-destruction that you probably lit yourself, either deliberately or accidentally when the wheels of progress started turning.

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“Love’s Call”, a Haiku by Gregg Hake

“Love’s Call”, a Haiku by Gregg Hake

Stop! Listen through
The ceaseless noise of culture—
Do you hear love’s call?

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Rest

“Rest”, a Haiku by Gregg Hake

Rest and be thankful
For life, for love, for being-
Time will open up

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Winds of Autumn

“Winds of Autumn”, a Haiku by Gregg Hake

Cool winds of autumn
Undressed the flushing woodland-
Thin-spun clouds rushed by

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Valor and Kindness

“He is as full of valor as of kindness. Princely in both.” ― William Shakespeare, Henry V

There is something about the balanced demonstration of valor and kindness which has captivated my attention from a very young age. I remember seeing this in my father’s expression, perhaps unconsciously at first, but then consciously as I, as a young man, took the initial steps out of the self-centered state which is natural to children.

I recall his noting his quiet dignity, self-possession and willingness to face any challenge that came his way with a caring, but firm determination. It impressed me, especially given extremes to which others tend to go, in one direction or the other. People seem to organize themselves into more or less two camps, the “hard-asses” and the pushovers, but my dad had that rare ability to work at the balance point between these two extremes more often than not.

I couldn’t imagine a more fitting grandfather for my two sons, but in saying that I must admit that my sons’ other grandfather is, as Shakespeare put it so well, “as full of valor as of kindness.” As someone I was speaking with yesterday mentioned respectfully, he always seems to find the way to take the high road in the situations he faces.

What, dear readers, would be said of you in this regard? Have you struck this balance in your own expression? Do you meet challenges you face with valor and kindness, as the need may be? Or do you still find your expression being dictated by the circumstances at hand on occasion? Would you say you are more radiant or reactive when the pressure comes on?

The choices you make in this critical phase of living will go a long way to determining the impact your life has on the world around you.

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