Friday, July 3, 2015

What History is Teaching Me

History is teaching me something.  It’s teaching me that I have to write.  I have to.  It’s true that I’m studying a lot and reading and writing all the time, but I need to be here with my Muse, not giving up on this despite the demands on my time.  Reading history all day long tends to give one perspective.  It makes one feel very small.  There have been billions of people on the earth.  Many of them faced very dire circumstances.  Millions of people from the continent of Africa were enslaved.  Millions.  Today we call their descendants African-Americans, but it wasn’t until they came to the Americas that they identified themselves as Africans.  Before slavery they were Akan, Bambara, Fan, Igbo, or Mande.[1]  These were people.  And other people, mostly whites, but also Muslims, and other Africans, sold these people, men, women, and children into slavery.  The listing facts and data cannot help but underscore the horror of slavery on a personal level and of the evil of this institution.  Sadly, the United States was one of the last countries to give up slavery
Then there is what was done to Native Americans.  Disease alone decimated up to 90% of some villages before the American Revolution.  European greed then took away their land.   The Native Americans who couldn’t be “tamed” were killed, murdered actually, sometimes entire villages of men, women, and children.  Survivors were marched off to “reservations” areas in places like Oklahoma with little or no fertile land.  Andrew Jackson, one of the first populist or “people’s” presidents, was especially cruel and did what he could to depose or destroy the Native American population.
Then there is the environment.  Not only did white people kick the original inhabitants off their land and force slaves to work on it, they despoiled that land.  Native Americans lived with that land for 2,000 years leaving few marks on it because they knew when it was time to give an area of land a rest and move to another area for a while.  This is why they traveled lightly and why material possessions were a burden and not always a blessing.  Though Native Americans lived on the land for over 2,000 years with all kinds of plant and animal species, it took less than 200 years before Europeans in their attempt to “subdue” the land destroyed much of the prevailing ecosystem.
It’s hard to read hundreds and hundreds of pages of this stuff week after week and not feel some sort of shame in being a human being.  The world has been, is, and probably will be a horrible place for many. 
I, on the other hand, am incredibly privileged and so these studies and these blogs and taking care of myself and my loved ones are a sort of mission to me, so that I can use my knowledge and skills and health to bless others.  Granted, I’m not perfect and I’ve created my own share of pain in the world.  But I find the study of history not only humbling, but also elevating.  It shows me how small we all are and how great we all can be.  Not everyone wants greatness, but I do.  I’m still defining what “greatness” means,  (riches?) (fame?) (authorship?) (a legacy that few know of but is nonetheless meaningful?).  I don’t have answers yet.  What I do know is that it is imperative that I study and write and take care of myself and the ones I love in order for my life to have an extrinsic value.  Yes, I’m valuable intrinsically because God created me.  But He also created me for a Purpose, and sitting here writing this blog reminds me of that.
I have to Get Started and Keep Going.  I can’t stop.  I’m one of billions of people in this world and I want my life to mean something.  I want to have at least a small part in making the world a better place. That is what history is teaching me.



[1] Ira Berlin, Many Thousands  Gone – The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, (London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003), 101.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Moving Forward

“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”

Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience


I feel that I haven’t moved forward as a writer.  I feel sad that I haven’t written a blog in a long time.  I also feel worried about things that are undone.  I haven’t run in two days and I have homework to do.  And yet, and yet….
Two words come into my head: Resist nothing. 
These words that come from The Power of Now don’t mean to make no changes, but simply to first accept what is and then make changes if necessary, or allow things to run their course. Sometimes sadness and worry are ways to beat ourselves up, to tell ourselves we aren’t good enough, that we don’t measure up to whatever impossible-to-reach standard we have put in our heads to keep us from being truly peaceful and truly successful.   I accept, then, the following:
·      I haven’t written many blogs or journal pages lately.
·      I could use my time more effectively.
·      I need to eat more fruits and vegetables.
·      I have homework to do.

But if I accept those things then I also have to accept these”
·      I’m a good teacher.
·      I can run or do homework when I’m done here.
·      I’ve done a lot with my life and I’ve blessed a lot of people.
·      I’m valuable even if the previous three statements weren’t true.

Just writing these gets me, to use Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s phrase, “centered” again.  I feel peaceful because my Muse is with me.  I feel blessed.  And yes, part of the reason for that is because I’m sitting here writing for my Muse, because I’m accomplishing something.  After all this time, I still cannot believe how strong the Enemy is, how strong I allow it to be.  Yesterday, for example, I had to write a brief paper.  I couldn’t do it.  I spent all day being stressed and scared.  I was sure that I had nothing to say and that I would get a bad grade.  I was paralyzed.  But finally I had no choice.  Write the paper or get an “F.”  So I wrote the paper.  And I liked it.  Hopefully, my professor liked it, too.  But it doesn’t matter as much as it did before I started writing.  I did my best. 

In a little while, I will do my best as I run or study or maybe even make a bowl of popcorn and watch a video and go to bed early.  I’m not going to worry about that now.  I’m just happy that I did this.  I’m happy that I was able to Get Started and Keep Going.  I miss writing blogs, but rather than resist what is (or was), I will simply be grateful for this blog.  I will simply be grateful for all the good things in my life...especially my Muse who keeps me moving forward.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ask

“Whenever I have knocked, a door has opened. Whenever I have wandered, a path has appeared. I have been helped, supported, encouraged and nurtured by people of all races, creeds, colors and dreams.”

Alice Walker
This isn’t the blog I was planning to write, but I need to say some things. 
I worry about you. 
Are you taking care of yourself? 
Are you getting help when and where you need it? 
How are you getting through times of little support and little money? 
What do you need? 
How will you get it?
Can I help?
Can someone help?
Can God help?
Have you asked?
As I said, I worry about you.
Sometimes it seems that we’re all alone.  We aren’t.  Someone wants to and can help.  What do we do if we can’t find that person?  It depends on the situation, but here are some ideas.  Pick what works for you.
Work.
Rest.
Pray.
Ask for prayer.
Seek counsel.
Trust your instincts.
Write.
Exercise.
Eat well.
Drink water.
Cry.
Laugh.
Eliminate as much negative from your life as possible.
Add as much positive to your life as possible.
Sing.
Practice gratitude.
Practice presence.
Go to the emergency room.
Go to the employment office.
Go to a friend.
Go to a relative.
Go to a neighbor.
Go to God.
Read something inspirational.
Be someone inspirational.
Make a plan.
Do a little something every day.
Do the hardest and/or the scariest stuff first.
Watch your thoughts.
Find a church.
Find a support group.
Admit to what doesn’t work and change it or eliminate it.
Fix it if you can.

There are probably more and better ideas, but the point is that you don’t have to do this alone.  You can Get Started and Keep Going…and if you can’t, ask for help.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Running




I should take a break.  I just finished a 600+-word essay.  Then I paid some bills.  Then I went running.  So I deserve a break.  Maybe I could watch a movie or read some comic books.  The thing is I’d rather sit in this chair, the chair I sit with my Muse in, and let her (and me) know that I am still here.  I still write.  I haven’t given this up.  I’ve slowed down a lot since I started school, but I haven’t quit.  In fact, I’m running faster even though I’ve slowed down.  I spent many hours in this chair and it feels good to be sitting here again.  It feels good to let my fingers hit the keyboard and see what happens.  It feels good to create something out of nothing, to put words and ideas on what once was a blank screen, even though I really don’t have anything to say yet.  However, I have noticed something as I pursue this Master’s degree.
I’ve noticed that I approach almost every assignment the same way I approached almost every blog – with fear and trepidation.
I’ve noticed that I often delay and procrastinate on assignments, or at least the parts that are hard to me.  I like the reading, but the writing scares me.  (Yes, that’s right.)
I’ve noticed that even when I start working that I am still easily distracted.
I’ve noticed that by noticing these things, I have more capacity to change them.
Tonight I also went running.  I think it was my sixth time.  It was hard, but not as hard as the first five times.  Towards the end I started getting a rhythm to the run.  My stiffness was gone.  I was actually sprinting a little.  I’m still not ready to run a marathon (and I don’t want to), but tonight was the first time I really started hitting a stride.  This makes me even more excited about running tomorrow. 
Maybe this is true of all activities that require self-discipline and patience.  Maybe stiffness and awkwardness are part of the process in the beginning.  Maybe we literally have to crawl and then walk and then run.  There were times in my life when I tried to sprint right away, without knowing the landscape, and I usually tripped and fell and hurt myself.  I had a job once in which I thought I was going to do great things, where I was going to go the distance.  But I didn’t know the landscape or the people on it.  I thought I was going to come in first place and get noticed, but instead I got relegated to doing laps, mostly alone. It was a painful and humiliating experience.  But being humiliated, which is bad, can lead to being humbled, which is good.  I learned that it’s better to start the race slowly, to run quietly, to run well, and then get noticed more positively.
Maybe I’ll run alone for the rest of my life.
But I won’t stop.

I’ll Get Started and Keep Going…and Keep Running.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Watch Hell Shrink Away

“If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every curse.”

Anthon St. Maarten, Divine Living: The Essential Guide To Your True Destiny

“I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness.
All seems beautiful to me.
Whoever denies me, it shall not trouble me;
Whoever accepts me, he or she shall be blessed, and shall bless me.”

Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

What does one do with a setback, a disappointment, a frustration?  If you are smart and lucky, you immediately find something to do, an action to take so that the pain is not allowed to take over.  We accept what is, which is not to say we like it, but only accept the reality of it.
“I didn’t get that job.”
“He left me.”
“I’m not where I want to be in life.”
“I’m broke.”
“I didn’t get the grade I wanted.”
“I did it wrong and now I have to start over.”
Everyone has a statement like this.  Everyone has struggled with disappointments, some large, some small.  But as many philosophers have said, and I paraphrase badly, “It’s not the thing, it’s our view of the thing.”
But by having a different view, does that mean we are in denial?  No.  It means we have the power to choose our thoughts and our responses.  When we’ve done all we can to get what we want or need, and it doesn’t happen, then we choose to take productive action, or we choose despair and defeat.
None of this is new or original, but it’s okay because I’m done worrying even about that.  At least I’m taking action.  I’m governing my emotions and responses so that I can enjoy all the blessings that surround me.  In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis says that Hell is not large, but instead very, very small, smaller than a pebble in this world, smaller than an atom in Heaven.  When we focus on disappointments, personal injustices, and regrets too much, we’re focusing on Hell.  But we’re focusing on the small things, rather than the large blessing.  Sometimes it’s a battle to do so, but I believe we are meant to live in peace and joy and love.  We’re supposed to watch Hell shrink away.
Besides, I’d rather focus on Heaven.
I’d rather focus on what is good, on the work I have to do, or the work I can create. 
I’d rather focus on my blessings.
This doesn’t invalidate my feelings about my disappointments or pain, but it doesn’t allow them to control me either. 
Right now I have so many choices – so many books to read, so many words to write, so many miles to run, so much good I can do for myself or others.
Here’s another thought:  maybe my disappointment is only a delay.  Maybe it’s all about timing.  In A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says,
When we surrender to God, we surrender to something bigger than ourselves – to a universe that knows what it’s doing.  When we stop trying to control events, they fall into a natural order, an order that works.  We’re at rest while a power much greater than our own takes over, and it does a much better job than we could have done.  We learn to trust that the power that holds galaxies together can handle the circumstances of our relatively little lives.


When I can rest in what is, I can love more and better.  So that’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to love and work and wait.  Someone said, “He who loves much does much.”  So I’m going to do all I can with the time I have. I’m going to Get Started and Keep Going.  And I’m going to watch Hell shrink away.