We call today Thanksgiving! Amidst the noise of Black Friday sales, “Thanks-Getting,” and holiday jingles, what many of us are feeling and trying to celebrate today is genuine and real. We greet family, friends, and strangers with “Happy Thanksgiving!” to acknowledge and celebrate publicly, at least for one day, our thankfulness for all that we have and enjoy in our lives, whatever the differences amongst us. In the same greeting, we wish for others the pleasure of appreciating the good in their lives so that they may also be happy. In the ritual of Thanksgiving, we take a moment to reflect on the positive aspects of our lives, setting aside whatever imperfections and frustrations we may normally face. And if we are so disposed, we will find in this experience a quiet form of happiness, a satisfaction that comes from the resolve, “in this moment, I am grateful.” If we string together many a moments like this, we live a more happy and fulfilled life.
In the rush of our modern days and the forces that compete for our attention, we might not realize how precious this moment is. Without our realizing it, things may be added or subtracted from what is today. Sometimes we only learn in retrospect what we take for granted. We assume there will always be the next day and the next task, and all the future days to come looking, perhaps, very similar. I hope that all the good in your life continues, knowing also that time and circumstances bring change and that nothing stands still.
So celebrate big today, and really give thanks. I hope this spirit of noticing the good and capturing it with gratitude carries on every day. And when you feel drawn down by the busy-ness of this world or the challenges of the future, and a certain emptiness sets in, simply come back to this... find all that is to be appreciated in this moment. In it is a key to nourishing your own happiness, which in turn allows you to be more supportive of the well-being of others. Happy Thanksgiving.
Once again, the world is churning in turmoil today, this time in the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks yesterday. Again, my heart aches for all those affected and those in fear. My anger rises in righteous indignation of those who could commit such atrocities.
It happens every day, though... entire communities massacred, neighborhood blocks demolished, traumatized refugees fleeing with hungry and hurt children in tow.
In midst of all this, I write of finding one's path forward in life, of flourishing, and of finding a way to express yourself in the world before the end of our days. Some might call this a great folly, an extravagance of and only for those who can afford it. But where would we be without our individual flourishing and without our effort to strive to be our best selves and to contribute in the world as we can?
If we, who are capable of caring and daring to grow, do not due to fear, or indecision, or resignation, who will? Who will provide the backbone to our shared humanity? As Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet and Islamic scholar declared, "You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop." We are each a reflection of the entire expanse of humanity, the good and the bad. So develop a backbone, and be a force for the good.
Look, they say that aging is the great leveler. If we are lucky enough to grow old, all the follies and experiences of our times will be behind us, our mortal beings simply trying to exist. In my parents' assisted care facility, the Silent Generation, those now in their 80's and 90's, sit side by side in wheelchairs. They are friends and former adversaries, Jews next to Germans, American military men next to my aged Japanese parents. (Sadly, the socioeconomic barriers still have not broken down, so there are few black and brown faces.) The elders are simply waiting together, perhaps for their meals, all suffering in some ways, but if you look closely, you'll notice that some among them are managing to radiate a sense of lightness and giving comfort to others, in spite of their personal circumstances and histories. I can only hope to grow old like that.
My parents were teens during the war. Like many affected by the worst of violence, my mother, as a young teen, fled from cave to cave in search of food, safety, and her family members during the great Battle of Okinawa, caught between retreating Japanese forces and the onslaught of American forces by air and land. Still later, she and my father were able to come to study in the United States, assisted by the goodwill of many. As a family, we lived in student housing and good people helped us along the way, bringing us school supplies and teaching us how to celebrate Thanksgiving and roast a turkey whole. I'm telling you all this because the grace of people helping people and caring for others is going on all the time. It's going on right now the world over, and especially in Paris. Take heart in humanity, even in the worst of days.
If we, as the adults of our society, can't uphold this - our shared humanity - our youth will be lost, and in fact, the very fabric of our society is weakened. So laugh when you will, cry when you need, care as you can, and be your best self. I'm going to keep doing full force what I know to do.
With the last meeting of my North Seattle College course, "From Midlife Through Retirement: A Path Forward" coming up, one student wrote me a note last week to say, "Tonight is my last class. I will be pursuing the arts next week in Los Angeles. Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement to continue growth." Normally, a student who stops attending would be a disappointment, but for her, I cheer her on! Hooray! She found her path, and her energy is flowing. Life is getting interesting once again for her. She exudes energy and a certain brightness.
She had suffered multiple challenges in a short period in her life, and she was at a crossroads when she came to class, willing to explore, like others, how to shape a "path forward" from this point in life. In class we have been talking about what matters at this particular point -- the second half of life is different, after all, but few people understand how and why; and consequently, its importance and value to us is dimmed and diminished in our society. But in class, we take time to rethink our values and goals, and align them to actions that help create a more meaningful, satisfying future. I asked everyone only for one action area to start implementing change. Typically, one action area is all that can be addressed in a short course, and it is sufficient -- like a stake in a sheet of ice, it's sufficient to create fractures, which in turn become new pathways for change, movement, and action over time. And this was more than enough to get her moving. Her action item was to get closer to the creative life that she needed and craved -- something that had been put on hold for years as she tended to others in her life. She needed just enough insight and motivation to spur her to action. Going online, she soon found an art tour she wanted to go on, and booked it.
I know that she and others who have registered for the class are already subconsciously on their path towards change anyway; otherwise, they would not be in my class. But she took the challenges posed in class to heart, and she took flight. She was ready. I hope she soars. As Helen Keller says, "No one should consent to creep, when one feels an impulse to soar."
She wrote later to say there's more to add to the story, which she'll share with me later, but she closed, "It’s all about being open – and the gift of being in the flow. Magic is everywhere… If eyes and heart are open." Yup, and that's why I'm offering this class, to help people find that "flow" for themselves. Of course, it is not guaranteed, nor can "flow" or serendipity be willed. But it is true, "Chance favors the connected mind." (Steven Johnson)
It is not easy sometimes to let go and try new things, or to place ourselves on the cutting edge of experimentation, or creativity, or commitment to something different. We may even feel uneasy about accepting the hard work that comes with change. But that's when life really becomes interesting and fulfilling. That's what Helen Keller must have meant when she said, "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing."
Thoughts for creating success in the second half of life.