Bird by Bird

Hope

I should probably have called this post 'Hope: a definition I can live with. Or by.' But I have an obsession currently with 1-word titles...so I'm leaving it at 'Hope.' If I were feeling more energetic, I would include a variety of quotations or definitions on hope. And/or some links to my own postings on the subject of hope vs. action. (easy enough to find them here, under H, in the Index.)

But I'm a bit pooped today, so I'll just mention this definition that is new to me.

G.K. Chesterton said “Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate.”

Well, hooey! I like it!!

I feel as though the circumstances of Life on Planet Earth (especially with respect to various nuclear situations which again, I don't even have the energy to list off, & they are numerous...) seem a little on the desperate side. 

Fortunately (perhaps even inexplicably), I am able to retain my mostly cheerful nature.

There - that gives me a big thing to be grateful for on this less-than-energetic day!!

Janet

p.s. here are 2 more things I am grateful for: having run across some Eckhart Tolle wisdom on the weekend, thanks to the book Oneness With All Life - Inspirational Selections from A New Earth, & Tolle's wise words therein about acceptance, enjoyment & enthusiasm. Thanks, ET!!   The 2nd thing is another book, this one Anne Lamott's funny, wise, wonderful Bird by Bird - Some Instructions on Writing and Life - a treasure I have dipped into again & again over the past 10 years or so, & find inspiring & helpful & cheering (& fun!!) every time. It was there I found the reference to the Chesterton quotation about hope. So, thanks to these wise writers who have helped cheer me up today!!

Life Philosophy (as of Dec. 10/09)

<Dec. 10/09>

Interesting times, hmmm? On the planet (economic crises, hunger crises, refugee crises, water crises, climate CRISIS; Copenhagen COP15 U.N. meetings taking place as I draft this), & also in my personal life (my family & friends would agree I seem to have a perennially anything-other-than-boring life…).

As many of us know, there is a Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.” Our blessing, and our curse, hmm?

Well. I promised my up-to-date life philosophy, so here goes:

I think we’re mostly here to learn & to grow & to love each other – and to keep on getting better & better at all three.

(Dr.) Rachel Naomi Remen said in her awesome book Kitchen Table Wisdom – Stories that Heal, “Life is the ultimate teacher, but it is usually through experience and not scientific research that we discover its deepest lessons. A certain percentage of those who have survived near-death experiences speak of a common insight which afforded a glimpse of life’s basic lesson plan. We are all here for a single purpose: to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better. We can do this through losing as well as through winning, by having and by not having, by succeeding or failing. All we need to do is to show up openhearted for class. So fulfilling life’s purpose may depend more on how we play than what we are dealt.” (1)

I think she got that very right.

Writer Anne Lamott said in her lovely book Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith (quoting her minister, I believe), “…the world sometimes feels like the waiting room of the emergency ward and that we who are more or less OK for now need to take the tenderest possible care of the more wounded people in the waiting room, until the healer comes. You sit with people,” she said, “you bring them juice and graham crackers.”

I think she’s right too.

In Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing & Life, Lamott said “E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.” (Ms. Lamott is just plain chockfull of words of wisdom, as you can see…)

I do not think we human beings are here to

  • work ourselves to death
  • amass great fortunes or piles of “stuff”
  • kill one another or destroy the planet
  • break our backs trying to “look good”
  • break our backs trying to be “bigshots”
  • make others like us (in both senses of that expression: make people fond of us, or make them act & believe the way we do).

I do believe we’re here to love one another, grow spiritually (don’t worry, you non-believers; you can do this without faith in any kind of deity), contribute in positive, life-affirming ways to our fellow human creatures/the Earth, heal ourselves & the planet.

Evolve as a species away from violence, greed, & terminal self-absorption and toward generosity of spirit, love, compassion & all that other fine stuff.

Call me ‘Pollyanna’ & naïve as heck; it doesn’t bother me in the slightest!!

I personally have spent many years as a mother & environmental advocate/activist/writer, and will very likely continue in this vein. This is clearly not only my “calling” in life, this stuff totally turns my crank!!!

In the face of all kinds of crises, both the current & looming variety, I will also continue to advocate:

  • building community
  • finding (& sharing) our personal “gift”
  • being ourselves, being authentic
  • having authentic relationships
  • knowing our “wealth” lies primarily in our relationships (Plato said “Your wealth is where your friends are” & we don’t seem to be able to top him there.)
  • investigating helpful spiritual teachers/writings/practices/words of wisdom
  • living in the moment; in the present, in the very, very Here & Now
  • living life to the fullest!!

Music, love, Nature, laughter…fun!! Life is a joyous, precious gift, Dear Reader – not some serious & fun-less funeral dirge!

There is a Buddhist saying, “Life is a joyful participation in a world of sorrows.”

How to live our lives, so we can promote our own (& everyone’s) health, healing, well-being; the health & growth & evolution of our species?

In the face of deaths – both “personal” & perhaps even that of our own as a species – how are we to act?

I think, with courage…conviction…energy…compassion…love…generosity…determination…kindness…feistiness… unselfishness…dignity…& most especially, gratitude.

I believe we are each capable of moving mountains when we act with courage & conviction(2) – always allowing our conscience to be an ever-present force within us – & then, as they say, “detaching from the outcome.”

The results of our actions are out of our control.

Act, then let go

And whatever else we may do, celebrate this great wondrous spectacle of Life & Earth!

(And say, as often as humanly possible – in memory of that brilliant, thoughtful, irascible & wildly articulate old Pall smoker, the writer Kurt Vonnegut – “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is!”)

Janet

A Few Relevant Quotations:

“I know what the greatest cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.” Henry Miller

“Truth comes only to those who must have it, who want it badly enough. And gifts of healing come only to those willing to change.” – Doris Janzen Longacre in the Foreword to her book “Living More with Less”

“Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.

“Change is never inevitable, change is always carried in on the shoulders of those who bring change with them.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Nothing is more powerful than an individual acting out of his conscience, thus helping to bring the collective conscience to life.” ~ Norman Cousins

“The single most important contribution any of us can make to the planet is a return to frugality.” Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN

“The saving of the world from impending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of the non-conforming minority.” – Martin Luther King

“Almost anything you do will seem insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“Choice is so important because it actually constitutes what it means to be a person.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“…you also know that each action undertaken with pure intent has repercussions throughout the web of life, beyond what you can measure or discern.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“Grace happens when we act with others on behalf of our world.” – Joanna Macy & Molly Young Brown in ‘Coming Back to Life – Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World’ (New Society Publishers, 1998).

“If the world is to be healed through human efforts, I am convinced it will be by ordinary people, people whose love for this life is even greater than their fear. People who can open up to the web of life that called us into being.” – Joanna Macy

“We do not need to protect ourselves from change, for our very nature is change.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal'

“But now comes the daunting revelation, that we are all called to be saints – not good necessarily, or pious or devout – but saints in the sense of just caring for each other.” – Joanna Macy in 'World as Lover, World as Self – Courage for Global Justice & Ecological Renewal’

“Energy always flows either toward hope, community, love, generosity, mutual recognition, and spiritual aliveness or it flows toward despair, cynicism, fear that there is not enough, paranoia about the intentions of others, and a desire to control.” ~ Michael Lerner, quoted in ‘The Great Turning – From Empire to Earth Community,’ by David Korten


(1) More on this book in the posting ‘Book & Bed Day.'

(2) One hopes that everyone’s courage & convictions do not involve murder & mayhem – or even selfishness, intolerance & inflexibility; for my part, I fail to see how such things can help us move forward as individuals, or as a species…

Do Yourself a Favour, Hmm?

<January 2009>

I recently read the most WONDERFUL novel (so what else is new, hmm? I’m always, always, always reading and recommending yet another great book…I know, I know…).

But you really have to read this one. It’s called Joe Jones, and it’s by Anne Lamott, and the characters are wonderful. Lou is wise and funny and lovable beyond belief, and on pages 149 and 150 there is enough wisdom in a few short paragraphs that reading them could change your life.

I mean it!

If I thought I could get away with it, I’d print up the relevant passages right here, so you could read them right now, but I think that might get me in trouble with the copyright police or something…

So go on out and buy the book, or borrow it from your local library (as I did; I was looking for another author whose name begins with “L,” and instead this one jumped right off the shelf at me…and since I’ve been a major Anne Lamott fan for a decade or so now, I was mighty happy about that…and even happier once I got into the novel).

I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

‘Nuff said.

Janet

P.S. My good friend Suzanne introduced me to Anne Lamott 10 years ago now (thank you Suzanne!!!). I own copies of her books Bird by Bird – Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Traveling Mercies – Some Thoughts on Faith, Plan B – Further Thoughts on Faith, and Grace (Eventually) – Thoughts on Faith. Anne and I come from a very different place, faith-wise, but that doesn’t matter a t’all. This is one wise, compassionate, funny, self-deprecating, searingly honest woman (& also a mother, which is sure relevant to me...). If you haven’t yet read Anne Lamott, you are in for a treat!