“Be curious, not judgmental”~ Walt Whitman.
I am descended from a set of adventurers, on both sides of my family tree. Unlike those who declared they were off to ‘discover’ the world, I am pretty sure my great grandfathers were simply looking for opportunities to take care of their families. And so they boarded ships and set off for foreign lands, not knowing what awaited them on the other side of that vast and forbidding ocean.
We can gain all sorts of inspiration by looking back, by dwelling in the stories of our past. But more important is to take courage and inspiration from the narrative, to find ways of being more appreciative of the here and now. Most of us look back at our school days with nostalgia and fondness. If only we realized how special they were while we were living them! How did we not see the relative simplicity of the choices we had. We were not yet trapped by the rat race of employment; we did not have a household of hungry mouths to feed. And yet we spent a lot of energy fighting the expectations of others; dreaming of adulthood and what we saw as freedom from the tyranny of teachers and parents. We were impatient, in a hurry, counting off the days of our lives.
For those of us who have moved away from our childhood homes and traveled to distant shores, we return to those familiar scenes and gaze in wonder at a beauty we barely noticed while living there. We are entranced by the simplicity of waking up to the same proud rooster (or his descendant!) who so disturbed our teenage dreams. We buy CDs of ‘nature sounds’, those same sounds that made us embarrassed about our country roots.
Why do we find it so hard to appreciate what we have until we lose it? Why must we only value health and moderation when we are forced to confront our mortality? We have been given the gift of intelligence and imagination. We can read of the hazards of unhealthy lifestyles, can watch documentaries of the hard lives of others. But we are often not motivated to do something meaningful about our own lives until we are reminded of the fragility of life. And even then we can find excuses, can find ways to procrastinate and put off for that perfect day, when finally we have time.
My quest for knowledge has exposed me to the philosophical sciences. Trying to understand philosophy is a bit like trying to hold on to a polly lizard. Right when you think you have it by the tail, you realize that is all you have: a wriggling tail as you watch the lizard and the thought race away from you. But I have been reading a philosopher (Shusterman and Somaesthetics) who among other things, advises us of the importance of being more aware of your body. By paying attention to your posture you may realize that you are once more hunching up your shoulders in tension, setting yourself up for a headache later. He warns us that many of us eat too fast, not savoring the flavors of the food, not even noticing what we are eating or when we are full. And thus we learn to associate a stuffed feeling with satisfaction, when actually that feeling represents overeating. Being aware of what we are doing as we do it can help us to act with focus, with intention.
We are often unaware of how we appear to others. We are so busy thinking about our day ahead that we start our workday with a frown on our face. This not only changes the energy of our day, it is infectious, and adds to the tension around us. I know I am guilty of being so much inside my head, that I have no idea of my facial expression. It is not until someone asks me ‘What’s wrong?’ that I realize what I am projecting. Performers and politicians need to be conscious of their appearance, and can observe themselves on TV. But nowadays anyone can be a star of a video. We all have the opportunity to see ourselves as others see us. And as uncomfortable as that may make us feel, perhaps it can help us to more mindful in our actions.
The nurse who comes into a hospital room consumed by her own worries will be perceived by the patient as unavailable, unfriendly and unfeeling. Is she aware that is how she comes across? She may be saying the right words, asking the right questions, she may believe she is displaying a ‘caring’ attitude. But patients see through words and actions and feel the underlying intention. They can sniff out hypocrisy and insincerity in an instant. In holistic nursing we talk of ‘authentic presence’, and in order to display it you have to be fully present for your patient, using all of your senses to pick up on clues both spoken and unspoken.
This morning I hope you are present in your own life, and savoring each moment of the here and now. Take a minute to be aware of how you may be perceived by others. And if you have a friend who is kind enough to let you know how you are coming across, listen to them! Just because you didn’t mean to be judgmental does not mean that is how you are perceived!
This week an old school hymn has been echoing in my head: “I would be true, for there are those who trust me…” One of the verses ends with the words: “I would look up, and laugh, and love, and lift.” I hope this weekend you can do all of these things, and pay attention! These are the days you will some day look back on with nostalgia and wish you had appreciated them more!
Have a wonderful weekend Family!