Learn The Lesson [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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The exercise is simple: be an angel to someone for at least 3 hours.

There is only one rule: you can’t tell them what you are doing or why you are doing it.

When assigning the exercise, there is always one panic-question masked as two questions: What does it mean to be an angel/How do I do it? [pull the mask and the real question is: what will they think of me?]

There is only one answer to the question: What does it mean to you to be an angel? Do that.

After the exercise, there is always one post-angel observation: “It was scary at first and then it was really fun!”

After the exercise, there is always one post-angel revelation: “I received waaaay more than I gave.”

Receiving abundantly as the consequence of giving abundantly is the point of the exercise [in this case, define ‘exercise’ any way you want to].

This message is everywhere. It’s a Hermetic Principle. It’s cause and effect. It’s what we learned in kindergarten. It’s the message from grandmothers on every continent. It’s blow-back. It’s a Beatles lyric: the love you take is equal to the love you make. It’s an advertisement to sell Canadian Whiskey.

Because it’s ubiquitous, you’d think we’d have learned it by now. Perhaps we know it already but get hung up on the courage it takes to be an angel. Mean is easy. Division is as easy as falling off a log. Kindness takes a bit of pluck.

After the exercise, there is always one post-angel lesson: there are no sissy angels.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about LIVING GENEROUSLY

 

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Help Yourself See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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In a particularly dismal period of time in my Seattle years, I decided I needed to focus on the good stuff. I made a game of writing on small bits of paper things in my life for which  I was grateful. And then I left my small gratitude notes around the city as I moved about my day. I left them at bus stops. I rolled some and tucked them in crosswalk signs. A few were tucked into menus or left on coffeehouse tables.

My gratitude notes had an interesting blow-back. They inspired me to seek things that I was grateful for so I might write a note about it. Not only that, but they made me pay attention to the infinite acts of kindness that I saw everyday. People were helping people everywhere! I was blind to it until I started paying attention; until I got out of my misery-head and opened my eyes.

I was struck by the vast difference between the story I was being told about humanity and the story I was witnessing on my daily walks across the city. I could count the acts of aggression. I lost track of the acts of kindness and generosity because there were too many to capture.

When you stop and think about it, isn’t it always the case that the the good stuff, the potential-pool-of-gratitude-possibilities is vast yet the gunk gets all the focus. What is it in us that hyper-focuses on the flaw, sorts to the wound, while the river of beauty roars by unnoticed?

Kerri designed these cards for another project and they made me remember my notes. Encouragement of gratitude. Give it a try. Download the blanks. Scribble a note or two of thanks-giving and leave them behind somewhere. Be prepared for some eye opening blow-back.

 

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read Kerri’s blog post about GRATITUDE

 

 

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Slow Down And See [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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There is a theme emerging in my posts this week. Substance vs. the appearance of substance. The flattening of importance.

During an exceptionally stressful and contentious period this summer, we streamed the entire run of Parenthood. Six seasons of escapism!  “Let’s go to  California,” we’d say, all too ready for a leap out of reality. And then, in a moment of horror, the episodes of Parenthood ran out. Our escape hatch closed with a bang. In desperation we surfed and landed in Schitt’s Creek. It was a series a bit too relevant to our circumstance and we howled when one of the characters, in the face of kindness, said that she’d been raised to see that “kindness is a sign of weakness.”

“That’s our problem,” Kerri said, “we see kindness as a virtue.” She was raised to be kind.

That night we had a long discussion about kindness and its general absence in public discourse.

I’ve been thinking much about our conversation since we found ourselves meditating on kindness in Schitt’s Creek. This is my observation: mean is easy. It is fast. Like all forms of reactivity and thoughtlessness, meanness and contention are elementary.

We are surrounded by friends who are kind.  They are kind because they cultivate kindness, thoughts of others, as essential to their character. That’s why we are attracted to them. We are the recipients of unbearable gifts of kindness through our friends. They break us open. They make us bigger.

Kindness is a virtue. It is also a strength. And, it takes time. Kindness is like poetry. It takes development and some higher order thinking.

Lions eat zebras for food. People hurt people for a lesser reason.

In a world obsessed with speed, it is all too easy to run past substance in pursuit of the superficial. Slowing down, taking some time to see, exposes all manner of beauty.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

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See Your Wealth [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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Not only does 20 take care of DogDog and Babycat while we are away, he always has a hot meal waiting for us when we arrive home. He is our anchor, our safety net. Our brother.

Once, a week before our wedding when we were harried and exhausted, we sent Linda a text. “Can we come to your house for dinner?” She fed us a feast. She and Jim made us laugh. We drank wine. They feast us to this day.

John and Michele watch out for us. They are the source of a thousand kindnesses. They tell stories that make us cry with laughter. They live with intention and inspire us.

When I was sick Russ showed up at our door with food. MaryKay plied us with brownies.

I call Horatio, Skip, or Arnie to stir my thinking, to seek perspective, or just because. They are always available. Always.

Dan helps us fix things, protect things, make things better. He is always on the lookout for ways to make our lives easier.

The Up-North-Gang comes to find us when we’ve been out in the canoe too long. “It’s time for snacks!” Jay says. We laugh with them and go on adventures. We drink special recipe Long Island Iced Teas and then have to sit down.

We call Jen and Brad for advice. We call them when we want to bounce ideas off sensible minds. We call them when we want to hear loving voices. They rejuvenate us. They lift our spirits. We look forward to every ounce of time spent with them.

Fact: it is the people in our lives that make our days some kind of awesome. Ask me if I am rich and I will smile and say, “Yes. Oh, yes. More than you can possibly know.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about AWESOME

 

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Make A Small Gesture [on Two Artists Tuesday]

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We’ve built our towering life together on the small gesture. Coffee in bed. A note stashed in a suitcase to be found when far away from home. We hold hands everywhere we go. When getting ready for bed, the first one in the bathroom always puts toothpaste on both brushes. Little kindnesses. The smallest of signals and courtesies that say nothing more and nothing less than, “You matter most of all.”

Looking for the grand plan that will change the world or, better, trying to be the grand plan, often blinds us to the real necessity of the moment. We look for the mountain that needs to be moved and miss the hand that needs to be held.

My younger, revolutionary self screams, “WHAT?! WE NEED TO PUSH BACK! WE NEED TO FIGHT THE SYSTEM!! WE NEED TO CHANGE THE WORLD!!! THIS SMALL-MOMENT STUFF IS THE CRAP-THINKING OF AN OLD PERSON! WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU?!!!!

I’ve been more changed by a smile from across the room than by all the agitation that I’ve engendered across the span of my life. I have initiated more change by holding my tongue than by wagging it. Listening, I’ve learned, is a most powerful small gesture.

If I am old (I don’t feel old), if I have learned anything, then I have learned that real love is not noisy or flashy or grand. It is quiet. It steps behind you when you are frightened, puts its hand on your back and whispers, “I’ve made you a toothbrush.”

 

read Kerri’s blog post about SMALL GESTURES

 

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Stand On Any Street Corner [on Merely A Thought Monday]

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For reasons that are beyond my pay-grade to comprehend, human beings are obsessed with seeing conflict and division. The news of the day is generally antagonistic and despair-inducing – and that is not unique to our day. Ancient temples and modern televisions alike are overrun with images of war and hostility.

One of the greatest powers a human being can achieve is the power of focus placement. ‘Seeing’ is, after all, a matter of choice.  It is not passive. In any given moment there are multiple points of focus, there are multiple stories, there are many interpretations to choose from.

Stand on any street corner and watch the world happen. Watch the overwhelming number of acts of kindness and generosity. The small moments of simple kindness and consideration. They are everywhere. People giving way, making way, helping. You will be surprised to find that the kindnesses by far outnumber the rudeness, the antagonism.

Stand on any street corner and watch where your focus goes. In the midst of a tsunami of kindness, if you are human and like all other humans, your focus will be captured by the angry guy honking his horn, the commuter shouting at the bus driver. “Such an angry world,” you think and close your eyes, despairing. Anger is so much louder than kindness.

Tell a story of discord, see a story of discord. Practice a story of discord, live a story of discord. Discord is easily leveraged. Division is easily sold. It is like selling candy to a kid. It is readily chiseled into pillars and hungrily read into teleprompters.  It is so easy to see.

Tell a story of kindness, see a story of kindness. Practice a story of kindness, live a story of kindness. Although it is more readily available it is, somehow, more difficult to see. It is less sell-able and, so, is discarded as trite. It requires choice and discernment rather than default. It requires opening your eyes and your story to what is actual, what lives beyond the thundering chorus of conflict-peddlers.

The angry shooters and tweet-happy presidents live on the far margins yet they garner the majority of the attention. Stand on any street corner and open your eyes. There is a sweeping quiet kindness that permeates the vast majority, that defines the middle ground. You can see it if you so choose.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about KINDNESS

 

 

 

 

 

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Make No Mark [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

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Many generations ago, just after the road was resurfaced, a hearty seagull stepped into the hot asphalt and, doing its best human imitation, left its footprints for posterity.

Everyone wants to leave their mark. A hand print in a cave, a plaque on a bench, an elementary school that carries their name. I was here. I did something worthy with my time. I mattered. I broke a record, amassed a fortune, discovered a cure, left a print in the Hollywood walk of fame.

Once, I painted a beautiful painting and I only know it was beautiful because a woman came to the gallery opening, caught her breath, and wept in front of it. Once, I fulfilled a promise long after it was capable of being fulfilled. Everything changed.

People draw lines in the sand. They take stands. They say, “This matters,” even if, from every other point of view, the scratch in the earth looks insignificant. To cross the line, to betray the mark, is…(fill in your word). My word is untenable.

I mostly wonder what kindness I might be capable of if I was not so concerned with making marks. I wonder what kindness might be afforded me if I were not pressed to step over my lines. What kindness my be engendered?

Time and again I have admired the words and work of people who managed to leave behind the desire for mark-making. They walked through their days, perhaps helping others and, without really meaning to, with no thought of personal gain or guarding of territory or making statements, like the seagull, they stepped and inadvertently left a few footprints for posterity.

 

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