Adventures in Thanks-Living

Living the gift of life one breath at a time

Archive for the category “Mindful/Simple Living”

How to Really Live

People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences will have resonances with our own innermost being, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. — Joseph Campbell

Note: This post is the first in a series. Each day will feature one observation about and a suggestion for how to really live your life, how to engage yourself fully in the act of being alive.

What’s it all about, this life we live? Do you ever slow down long enough to wonder about the meaning of life? Maybe you are too busy living–earning a living, running taxi for children or grandchildren, or caring for aging parents, trying to keep your head above the waters of financial ruin–to even care about deeper meaning.

The first step to really living your life is to quit kidding yourself about how much life you have left to live. The only moment each one of us is promised is the present one. You may live to be a hundred or you may die tomorrow, but the only moment in which you are truly alive is this one–right here, right now.

Close your eyes. Take a slow, deep breath, inhaling through your nose. Hold it lightly for a short interval. Now breath out gently but fully through your nose, emptying your lungs deeply from your gut upward.  While you are enjoying this solitary breath, give thanks for it and for your precious gift of life.

What a miracle you are! That single breath you just honored is one of some 17,000 that you will take in one 24-hour period. Your heart will beat, without any help from you, more than 100,000 times each day. You make thousands of decisions each day, both great and small, conscious and unconscious. You are an amazing creation, one that the Creator of the Cosmos called very, very good.

The first step to really living your life is make a conscious choice to live more fully in the present moment. Yes, some things must be planned and arranged and done, but if you find yourself always looking backward at the way things were or planning for a future over which you have no control–just stop.

Take another one of those single, thankful breaths and come back to the present moment.

  • Love the people you love. I mean really love them and tell them so. Spend time with them if you can.
  • Do something fun or silly. Celebrate and laugh every single day. Laughter is good medicine and will cure a host of maladies.
  • Leave your work behind (at least for a little while)
  • Be active. Take a walk, ride your bike, dance, swim, hike, or do yoga.
  • Eat well and mindfully. Sit down at the table. Light a candle.
  • Rest

Whenever cares and worries threaten to carry you away into moments past or futures unknown, will yourself back to the present moment and day. Live it well. It is gift, pure gift.

Remember the words of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel:

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (6:34)

Whatever your situation, remember that life is fleeting in the grand scheme of the universe. We’re only on this earth for a short time. No trouble, worry, or distraction is worth depriving you or others of the privilege of living right now.

Blessings on your precious life here and now!

A Lagniappe:

Enjoy this You-Tube version of Burt Bacharach’s song “Alfie” sung by the incomparable Rumer.

Photo by OutdoorLori. Thanks!

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Life on Loan

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children. — Native American Proverb

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it… — Psalm 24:1

“You’re not in charge!” Most human beings I know chafe under such an imperative statement. Sure we’re in charge, each one of us, right? Do you remember the Bon Jovi song “It’s my Life” and its siren song to individuality: “It’s my life/It’s now or never/I ain’t gonna live forever/I just wanna live while I’m alive…”? This song has inspired people of all ages and become an anthem to the idea of controlling one’s own life and destiny.

It’s true that we don’t live forever on this earth, and it’s laudable to desire to really live instead of go through the motion, but it is not true that this life is ours to do with as we please. Our life is a loan. We didn’t dictate our birth , and we’re really not completely in charge of our terminus post quem. And what we do while we’re here–every choice and decision–matters and affects the course of our journey.

Our choices and life paths also affect others, an important point to ponder. How we treat our bodies affects how long we may potentially live, how much we will have to invest in health care, and what our quality of life will be. How we treat our economic resources affects our security, the futures of those we love, and even the future of our community and our nation. How we treat our earth may potentially affect everyone. We are, in effect, “borrowing” the earth and all its resources from future generations.

Yes, we live on borrowed time with lives that are merely a loan. Each breath, each day, everything is pure gift, but the gift is shared. Our gift of life is lived out in community for good or for ill. How will you enjoy your gift, steward your loan, and care for what is not yours forever?

Thanks-Living Action:

1. Ask yourself what kind of world you would like to see for your children or your children’s children. If you do not have children of your own, what kind of world would you like to leave as your legacy?

2. How can you be a better steward of your time, talent, and resources?

3. What does it mean to live life as gift?

Finally, ponder these words from a sermon delivered by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church:

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. … This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

Photo by Damanhur, Federation of Communities. Thanks!

Thankful for Heat

It’s cold here in Pennsylvania, a damp mid-winter cold. Of course, it’s January and it should be cold. That said, I am fighting off a cold (and losing) and am chilled to the bone. Brrrr! Five degrees above zero this morning might as well have been thirty below. Even the dogs don’t want to stay outside any longer than necessary.

That makes me especially thankful for heat–for a warm home and a warm wool coat to wear outside. I’m also thankful our car heaters work well. Every clang and clank of the radiator next to me sounds like music to my cold, tired ears.

What simple thing are you thankful for this day?

Photo by Geert Schneider. Thanks!

How Then Shall We Live?

As we come to know the seriousness of the situation, the war, the racism, the poverty in our world, we come to realize that things will not be changed simply by words or demonstrations. Rather, it’s a question of living one’s life in a drastically different way. -Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, is one of my heroes because she not only talked a good talk; she lived a life of love, compassion, and mercy. Her faith was forged through her own trials and pain, a reality that also led her down a path to help others. Day was a truly amazing woman and a faithful witness to the gospel. You can read more of her story here.

When I read the above quote today, I was reminded again that each day we wake to answer the question “how shall I live this day?” Our western culture affords us myriad choices and opportunities. Most all who read this reflection are blessed to have enough to eat, living quarters that are dry, warm, clean, and spacious, more than enough clothes and possessions, and transportation. Yet still many of us wonder about purpose, direction, and meaning.

Do we live for ourselves, or do we live for one another? Are we only here to live for the day (Carpe Diem) and what we can amass, or are we here to live in community and share? Are we entitled to however much we can get, or do we use only what we need and share the rest with those who have need? How then shall we live?

I cannot answer that for anyone but myself. What I am learning in life is that how I answer that question really does matter and that my needs are pretty simple. People matter; stuff does not. Relationships last; possessions come and go. We come into life empty-handed, and we go out the very same way.

How will you live today?

Photos by Jagz Mario and christiantimeless. Thanks!

 

What Price?

Who would think to  link a cheap pair of blue jeans at a local mall with a chemical spill near the Chinese city of Handan? It’s not likely that most consumers would give such a possibility a first thought, much less a second one.

Yet that is exactly what happened recently, and NYU professor and author Dan Fagin wrote about the chemical spill that  polluted the Zhouzhang River, Handan’s major water source. He also provides a brief history of how consumers and manufacturers add potential carcinogens to the cost of the goods we purchase. You can click here to read Fagin’s op-ed piece in its entirety.

We live in a complex global society, and yet we are inextricably linked with our sisters and brothers around the world by something as simple as the fabric of the gloriously colored cheap jeans on the shelves of retailers at our malls and big box stores. Someone’s health–perhaps even life–is a terrible price to pay for a pair of jeans that likely won’t last a couple of years.

How in the world do consumers decide whether a purchase is sustainable and just? What premium should one expect to pay? How in the world can a consumer who lives on a fixed income or who struggles to put food on the table even begin to add these cost calculations to the shopping cart? These are good questions and fair ones to ask. Unfortunately, the answers are not simple ones either.

This factory in Dongguan pays workers US$2 per day, including mandatory overtime. By Chinese standards this is a good wage.

Click here for a brief 2010 American Public Media Marketplace Business interview with Steve Chiotakas and Adrienne Hill about whether consumers will purchase sustainable fashion. According to Hill it’s tough to determine whether an article is truly sustainable fashion or a marketer’s green-washing. Sustainable fashion also faces the question of how to overcome its tree-hugger hippie-type image.

All of us can make a difference by understanding the true price of the clothing we purchase. We can make informed decisions that reflect our values and lifestyle. We can raise awareness without being judgmental. We can share ideas and resources, and we can work for a better future for all people by thinking about the clothes we choose to wear.

Beginning Points:

  • Think about your values. What motivates your purchases? What really matters to you? What core principles drive your life and decisions? Outline these values and principles and apply them to all future purchases.
  • Ask yourself whether you really need a new item. Can you make do with what you have? Can you trade items with a friend or have a clothing swap party? Can you refashion an article of clothing into something “new”?
  • Identify what role shopping plays in your life. Do you shop for recreation? Does shopping fill a need in your life? Do you simply enjoy the thrill of finding a bargain? Do you only shop when absolutely necessary? Do you find the whole idea of shopping challenging? If you shop purely for recreation, think of other ways that can fill your time and your need for fun.
  • Can you minimize your wardrobe to a few key mix and match items and bright accessories? Do you really need a walk-in closet full of garments, or a hundred pair of shoes? There is great joy and liberation in paring down your possessions to the things you actually use and love.
  • Can you buy “new to you”? Check out vintage stores, consignment shops, thrift shops, and charity stores. You might find older items of better quality or gently used items at a greatly reduced price. This option helps keep new merchandise out of the consumer stream and ensures existing garments will continue to be useful. Virtually all of my shopping is done this way, and I’ve found some amazing articles of clothing that I could never afford (nor would purchase) new.
  • If you must buy new, are you willing to do the difficult work of researching and paying the extra cost for sustainable, fairly traded items? Are you willing to buck consumer trends and high fashion vision for comfort and clarity of mind and purpose?
  • Check out companies like People Tree, Maggie’s Organics, Global Girlfriend, prAna, who are among a new breed of manufacturers and producers striving to provide quality clothing that makes a difference. Are they perfect? No. Are they an improvement over other options? I believe so.
  • Consider making this statement your consumption “mantra”: Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. (Thanks, Katy Wolk Stanley!)

Photos by lifecreations and Ed-meister. Thanks!

 

Ditching the Detritus

Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated. — Confucious

Simplicity involves unburdening your life, and living more lightly with fewer distractions that interfere with a high quality life, as defined uniquely by each individual.” — Linda Breen Pierce

I am convinced that “stuff” has a tendency to multiply like guinea pigs–fast and furiously. In fact, we live in a world where the accumulation and collection of stuff is encouraged at almost every turn. Buy this, collect that, you need one of these…so the consumer wooing goes. If one listens to this siren song, the result is a life full of stuff, most of which is unneeded for one’s happiness and is, in fact, downright unnecessary and even wasteful.

Think about it. Just how much does a person really need?

Do you ever feel awash in a sea of paperwork? Do you regularly look at drawers or shelves or closets or entire rooms and feel exhausted just contemplating where to start with the overabundance of stuff? Do you feel worn out from the work of managing your “stuff”? Are you holding onto things out of guilt or obligation (Great Aunt Mary’s awful vase or the dollar store tchotchke a student gave you eight years ago)?  Does your detritus (what a great word!) prevent you from living fully and gratefully? Could others benefit from what you do not need?

If you answered yes to one or more questions, then maybe 2013 is the year for you to ditch your detritus. Someone will have to do it eventually. Would you rather simplify now or leave it to your children and other family members to sort through in the midst of grief and loss? Would you rather have someone hurriedly sort your stuff, consigning bits and pieces of your life to various places–including the landfill?

The more simply you can live, the more choices will present themselves, and the more options you will likely have. Can you imagine heading out in your car with your life’s possessions or even taking off with a couple of suitcases? Granted, not every person can minimalize his or her life to this degree, but all of us can take practical steps toward ditching detritus and polishing the contours of our existence.

Here are a few ways to start:

Choose one small space and a short span of time–a drawer and fifteen minutes, a closet and an hour, a room and an afternoon–and determine to make a change. Pull everything out. Spare nothing. Make three piles. One pile is for that which you must absolutely keep, one pile is for items whose fate remains unsure, and the final pile is for items that can leave your life without question. Take the unsure items and box them away for six weeks. If you aren’t forced to open the box, then part with it, preferably unopened to your favorite local charity.

Make a memory, not a mess–What about those precious photos and gifts you keep out of duty, obligation, or love? The easiest way to deal with these items is to photograph them, and keep a digital file of memories. If you are crafty or artsy, consider making something new from them or at least making an artful arrangement for a photograph. Then release these items for others to use and enjoy.

Create some capital–If you are strapped for cash, then by all means find an outlet such as Amazon, half.com, ebay, or Craigslist to sell items of significant cash value. Books, dvds, and vinyl of marginal value (it’s no longer a good deal to sell via Amazon unless you have items of value or significant stock) can be bulk grouped and sold locally via Craigslist or through a used bookstore, game outlet, or entertainment store. Hold a rummage sale.

Give–Consider simply giving items away. Local charities are often happy to take items for resale. If you have books of value, do what my mother did, and pass them along for others to enjoy.  Share from your abundance. Remember, we really don’t “own” anything permanently in this world anyway. We come here empty-handed, and we will leave the same way. If you created some capital and don’t need the funds to pay off debt or secure a college fund, then give the proceeds to the charity of your choice. Keep only what you need; share the rest.

Determine to keep your life lean and clean–Once you’ve rid yourself of detritus, determine to live a simple life that is free of unnecessary stuff and clutter.

  • Place added value on relationships, community, and experience.
  • Make it known that you would prefer any gifts to be in the form of consumables, experiences/time, or gifts to charitable organizations to benefit others. Consider alternatives to the traditional holiday gift-giving glut, such as limiting the number of gifts, choosing to give only fair-trade or consumable items, or exchanging handmade and home-crafted gifts.
  • Keep only items that are functional or beautiful to you.
  • Maintain a “loose hold” on things. Be always willing to let items come in and out of your life without fuss.
  • Designate one period of time each week to stem the tide of clutter and consumption.
  • Avoid recreational shopping.
  • Hold to a one in/one out rule–especially with clothes. If you bring an item into your closet or life, send another item on its merry way.
  • Cultivate the art of giving from your abundance–joyfully and readily–as part of a life of thanks-living.

These are by no means new ideas, but it helps to hear this message over and against the encouragement and pressure our society places on needless, mindless, and excessive consumption. Mindful living and thoughtful use of resources helps to foster a life of thanks-living, and that is a very good thing indeed.

  • How do you discard the detritus of your life in a way that is healthy, fruitful, and mindful of the environment?
  • What advice can you offer from personal experience?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in simplifying your life in 2013?

Photos by coiros and puuikibeach. Thanks!

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