Monday, October 30, 2017

Well, That Was Exciting

Apparently I didn't put out the birdseed on time yesterday morning. When I opened the back door onto the screened porch, there was a squirrel on the porch!

I'd noticed a few days ago that part of one screen had a few holes in it near the bottom. Now I know why. Apparently those holes were the size of a squirrel's nose. Yesterday they expanded to the size of a squirrel's body -- complete with a nose that can smell birdseed!

The squirrel dashed around the perimeter of the porch a few times and then scooted back outside the way he/she came in.

Now the birdseed is inside the house and the hole is blocked with duct tape.

No harm done, and both of us have a story to tell!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

So Difficult, So Simple

Why is something as essential and frequent as communicating with others so rife with potential disaster? It's one of the human mysteries. In The Art of Communicating, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explores that mystery and reveals the tools for improvement.

Beginning with a gentle insistence that our electronic devices interfere with communication rather than enhancing it, Nhat Hanh encourages us to take time away from the hustle and bustle of life to "water the flowers" of our own awareness and show love and caring to those around us. Using simple words and examples from nature to explain deep concepts is Nhat Hanh's forte. That talent is very much on display here. As the reader's awareness is fine-tuned, what seems to be a text of oversimplification reveals itself as a book of wisdom.

Returning to the breath and our own awareness forms the bedrock of Nhat Hanh's communication art. Being gentle with ourselves -- not excusing feelings, but not condemning them, either -- leads to being gentle with others. When we are calm and centered, we are able to look on others with compassion and speak to them with love. And that leads to the heartfelt use of the mantras of communication. I write them here as a touchstone, although the book itself contains the full exposition that gives them their power:

1. I am here for you.
2. I know you are there, and I am very happy (because we have the chance to communicate).
3. I know you suffer, and that is why I am here for you.
4. I suffer, please help (or more specifically: I suffer and I want you to know. I am doing my best. Please help.).
5. This is a happy moment (because we are alive together and have the opportunity to understand each other).  
6. You are partly right (because all people are a combination of qualities, neither criticism or praise is the entire story).

Deceptively simple, I know. Nhat Hanh makes no promise for instant success, only that with practicing these mantras, we can become more skilled in communication. Once the conversation is initiated with these words, attentive listening, staying calm within oneself, not being caught up in pride, and other techniques keep the communication moving toward understanding and reconciliation.

It's a little difficult to imagine saying these words to someone who is actively hostile and angry. But imagine these words being said with kindness and genuine concern, by someone beloved or by another, such as a coworker. Whose cold and stony heart would not melt and open enough to allow communication to begin?


If we wait for the other person to change, we may spend all our time waiting. So it's better that you change yourself. Don't try to force the other person to change. Even if it takes a long time, you will feel better when you are master of yourself and you are doing your best.

Sometimes when you see your partner behaving in a way that irritates you, you might want to reproach him or her. If you immediately try to correct him, he may get irritated, and then you both are irritated and become unkind. It is as if the blue sky disappears, the green trees disappear, and you are two blocks of suffering bumping against each other. This is the escalation of war, the escalation of unhappiness. You have to disentangle yourself from the unhappiness and go back to yourself, back to your peace, until you know how to handle the situation in a loving way.

Note: This book counts toward the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

All Clear

Well, Irma was a most unpleasant guest, but like most guests, she didn't stay forever.

It's Day Three of no power at home, but there is water, temperatures have been moderate, and there was no damage to speak of.

I'm writing this from the office, where there is also no damage and the power is on. I'll post details and pictures when I can.

Meanwhile, WHEW! We really got lucky, unlike lots of other folks.

You'll never hear me complain.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Irma, On Her Way

No automatic alt text available.
Photo: Channel 9 
Irma is coming.

She's predicted to travel slightly west of us, so we probably won't get the eye. But she's large enough to cover the entire state, and the northeast quadrant is the roughest section, so we're still in for a crazy ride tomorrow and Monday. 

She's forecast to arrive as a Category 3, meaning winds of 111 to 129 m.p.h. (If you want to know what that means, check out the animation here. Not for the faint of heart.)  

But as my friend Julie says, "Heck, anyone can handle a 3!"

We're in a sturdy building (built in 1925 and still solid). Some of the windows are boarded up, making a safe room in case Irma's track wobbles or she strengthens to bring us more wind than expected. 

We have flashlights, plenty of food and water, and plenty of books to read. We're also mentally prepared to do without electricity for days and maybe for weeks. 

It will be an adventure.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Route to Happiness

I found Colin Beavan's How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness That Helps The World curiously bland, given its potentially life-changing subject matter. Maybe it was the calm, kindly tone, when I expected more of an exhortation or a pep talk. Maybe it was the irrefutable logic and common sense of Beavan's premise, an undeniable truth couched in plain language.

At any rate, the point of this book is an old one -- how to achieve the Good Life -- in the tradition of Socrates, Seneca, Thoreau, and various other thinkers through time. It's the great question of every age. Here, Beavan puts his own spin on it, subjecting such modern components as materialism, student loan debt, health and fitness habits, social consciousness, and work life to an examination of what he calls the "standard approaches" and encouraging a frank evaluation of whether they do, in fact, lead to happiness.

His content is sometimes brilliant, for all its simplicity. It certainly has the potential for being life-changing and I suspect his approach and research will click for many of his readers. As just one example, Beavan encourages his reader to realize that even a small change matters, and one needn't make the perfect small change to make a worthwhile difference for oneself and others and feel happy about doing so.

Beavan cites a woman who decided she wanted to make a better choice about the coffee she purchased. She didn't postpone the decision for weeks or months while she researched her options or became a coffee expert. Instead, at the supermarket she read the labels, noticed the various certifications for fair trade, shade grown, and so on, decided that more certifications was probably a good thing, and purchased the brand with the most certifications. Building on that success, she later became a regular customer of her local independent coffee shop, learned more about coffee from the owner, and switched brands again to make an even more informed choice. But she didn't wait for the perfect choice before taking action, nor did she feel bad about not making a better choice at the outset. She simply got on with it.

Applying this model across the board in all facets of life, Beavan's readers are likely to succeed in achieving an authentically good life, simply by identifying what will bring them true satisfaction and then pursuing it. Their good lives will undoubtedly lead to a better world populated by thoughtful, caring, well-prioritized community members who are disciplined with themselves -- assuring that they live in alignment with their principles -- and encouraging with others. And wouldn't that make us all quite a bit happier?

Excerpt (from a section called Nine Ways to Be "Acceptable" Without Buying Anything):

9. When ads make you feel like you rock and don't need to change a thing:
They are selling: Nothing. Ads will never say this. Their job is to make you feel bad about yourself, not good.

There is only one place where people cook more than you, love better than you, have sexier bodies, and all the rest. That is in the media -- on the Internet, in the movies, and on TV.

Do this instead: Slow down! Evaluate the con. Do the people in the ad really exist? Look at your neighbors, your friends, your colleagues. Do you really in your heart of hearts believe you are less than they are? Aside from the fact that you are stressed and harried and feel a bit insecure -- just like everyone else -- when you refer to your Truth and not to TV or the Internet, wouldn't you say you are doing pretty well without more junk?

Note: This book counts toward the 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge