“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Thursday, 29 March 2012

In the Eye of the Beholder

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. (I know not by whom, I've just looked it up in both my Dictionaries of Quotations, and it isn't there, to my surprise). However.

What does this mean? I think that it is reminding us that there is no one standard of beauty in the world, no matter what the celebrity press might tell us. For example, it is a truism that every new parent thinks that his or her baby is the most beautiful creature in the world, when an objective view might think otherwise (to say the least). So maybe if we can believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we might be able to avoid making snap judgements about people based on how "pleasing" their appearance is to us, because we will understand that our standard of beauty may not be shared by others.

The importance attributed by many in our society to  having a particular type of body or set of features worries me. I am not immune to this - I look at pictures of the great and the good (or even the merely famous) and compare myself unfavourably to them. This even though I KNOW that the photos I am seeing are often airbrushed impossibilities.

Perhaps the real meaning of the phrase is that when you look at someone with love in your heart, they are beautiful, because you are looking at the whole person, not just at their physical appearance. Perhaps we should train ourselves to look at others in this way, so that we may, in the words of the Quakers, "refrain from making prejudiced judgements about the life journeys of others" and "Remember that each one of us is unique, precious, a child of God."

Friday, 23 March 2012

Travelling Hopefully (and Attentively)

Today I am travelling down to London, to spend the weekend on a training course. Usually, I don't particularly enjoy travelling - I am one of those who would love the teleport machines in Star Trek to be a reality - but this time, by serendipitous chance, one of John O'Donohue's wonderful poems will accompany me on the way, and remind me to enjoy the experience. It was posted by Joe Riley (aka Panhala) who posts an inspirational piece most days. I thank him (and the late, great John O'Donohue) for changing my attitude.

John O'Donohue
For the Traveller

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.

New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.

When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:

How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.

When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.

A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.

May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.

May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

~ John O'Donohue ~
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

Friday, 16 March 2012

Write It Down

This is a busy time of year. I am preparing for a major AGM (in two weeks' time), and also organising a conference (in two and a bit weeks' time). Not to mention all the other "ordinary" tasks which are part of my job and the rest of my life. At times I feel like a squirrel in a cage, running round and round, and getting nowhere fast.

But then I remember. Write it down. Even the longest "to do" list gives a shape and form to the scale of the problem (mine has 19 items on it at the moment, some of them quite complicated). But at least I now know what I have to do in the next two weeks, in order to get to the AGM and conference with all boxes ticked and all tasks done. Writing it down has made me focus on the jobs in hand, and enabled me to prioritise them, so that things get done in their due order.

I find that the act of writing something down, whether it is a to-do list or the pros and cons of making a particular decision, helps me to calm down and think more clearly, so that I can make the best choices about what to do when. It is as though a gentle hand has been placed on my shoulder, reassuring me that there is a way out; I just need to slow down, get off the squirrel-wheel and think about it. It once helped me to decide whether to move jobs - I divided a page into four columns, labelled 'Staying: For', 'Staying: Against', 'Leaving: For' and 'Leaving: Against'. It really helped to clarify my thoughts and separate them from my emotions. (in case you were wondering, I left - best decision I ever made!)

And oh yes, no. 20: have a rest day - go for a run, stitch, journal, chill.

But without the list, I would not be able to give myself permission for this sanity clause.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A ship of thought

I have found a beautiful quotation by 19th century American Unitarian minister Theodore Parker, which sums up how I feel about books and reading:

Theodore Parker

"The books that help you most are those which make you think the most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty."

Reading has always been a passion of mine, to the extent that it has occasionally got me into trouble, when I have been too deeply buried in a good book to pay attention to life going on around me. Yet few things give me greater delight than the discovery of a new book that makes me think; that makes me see the world and everything in it in a new light. In his introduction to Mister God, This is Anna, Vernon Sproxton speaks of Ah! Books, "those which induce a fundamental change in the reader's consciousness. They widen his sensibility in such a way that he is able to look upon familiar things as though he is seeing and understanding them for the first time. ... Ah! Books give you sentences which you can roll around in the mind, throw in the air, catch, tease out, analyse. But in whatever way you handle them, they widen your vision. For they are essentially Idea-creating, in the sense that Coleridge meant when he described the Idea as containing future thought - as opposed to the Epigram which encapsulates past thought. Ah! Books give the impression that you are opening a new account, not closing an old one down."

Everyone will have different Ah! Books. Mine include Beliefs of a Unitarian by Alfred Hall; Quaker Advices and Queries; Enough by John Naish; Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain; Rilke's Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke; The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong; The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran; Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary-Ann Brussat and A Backdoor to Heaven by Rabbi Lionel Blue. And of course Mister God, This Is Anna. Each of these books has shown me the world in a different way, and made me think about myself in relation to it. They have influenced what I believe, and how I behave in very fundamental ways.

What are yours?

Friday, 2 March 2012

Spiritual Teachers

For my birthday last week, my daughter bought me The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. She describes it as "an approach to changing your life. First is the preparation stage, when you identify what brings you joy, satisfaction, and engagement, and also what brings you guilt, anger, boredom, and remorse. Second is the making of resolutions, when you identify the concrete actions that will boost your happiness. Then comes the interesting part: keeping your resolutions." The book takes the reader through the different resolutions she tries to keep throughout the course of a year. It makes fascinating reading.

For August, one of her resolutions is "imitate a spiritual teacher" as a way of learning to be a better person by following the example of a great life, for example, Christians following Jesus. This made me wonder - who is my spiritual teacher? After some thought, I came to the conclusion that he is Rabbi Lionel Blue, whose writings and talks I have loved for 30 years. His approach to religion is honest and straightforward, based on kindness and compassion to others (including himself) rather than creeds and dogma, all leavened with his marvellous sense of humour. I have read and re-read all his books many times, and often use bits of them for readings in services. I think it is his directness and honesty, his ability to find a spiritual lightness in most situations, and his willingness to pick himself up after a bad day and go on, that so appeals to me. That and his total faith in God / Whomsoever, Whatsoever / Fred.

Who is your spiritual teacher?