“Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome.  Since the present moment is Life itself, it is an insane way to live.” Eckhart Tolle

Have you ever done business with someone who was totally enthusiastic about their work?  While they are providing their service to you, their eyes sparkle, they have a bounce to their step, and you can sense their utter delight at giving you their best.  You don’t come across these individuals very often, but when you do they stand out as exceptional.  My optician, Mr. Raspberry, is one of these people.  When I bring him my mangled glasses to fix (I’m really hard on glasses), his eyes light up and he actually giggles as he’s coaxing them back into usable shape.  To Mr. Raspberry, there is nothing routine or mundane about fixing glasses:  he treats each pair as if they were the most exciting work he’s ever done.  I actually look forward to getting my glasses adjusted, because just being around Mr. Raspberry’s enthusiasm is contagious and I always leave with a smile on my face.

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“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. ”   Genesis 1:31

Have you ever known someone with lots of money who was really unhappy?  You see it all the time, people who have every material thing the mind can dream up, yet their lives feel meaningless and empty, and they still crave something more.  Have you ever known someone who seemed to have very little in the way of material possessions, yet seemed completely content … even happy?  How can that be?

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When I was in the sixth grade, the teacher asked the class, “If you could be anything you wanted to be, what would you be?”  I instantly shot my hand in the air (I was obnoxious like that), and shouted out:  “A saloon hall girl!”  The kid next to me yelled out, “Outlaw!”  The teacher rolled her eyes and sighed in disgust.  She was aiming for answers like fireman and doctor.  She was trying to teach us that we could reach whatever goals we could dream up.  Unfortunately for her, she failed to take into account that as children our dreams are as yet uncensored.  When we play make-believe as children, our imaginations have not yet been completely imprisoned by the mores and “good” values of the culture we are raised in.  As children, the possibilities really are endless.

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“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet was a dreary guy to be around.  He had it all:  he was the Prince of Denmark, which means he had money and power.  His life was full of potential.  Plus, he had the love of the beautiful Ophelia.  Anyone else in his position might have been very grateful to be so fortuitously placed in life.  But not Hamlet.  Hamlet was chronically depressed and whined and moaned about everything.   From the outside looking in, Hamlet’s life seemed pretty cushy; but from his point of view, Denmark was a prison, and “a goodly one,” at that.  Like I said, Hamlet was a real drag.  Do you know people like that? Just being around them can suck the life out of you; a few minutes in their presence and any good feelings you had begin to grow mold and rot.

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Fully accept what already is, and suddenly you have it all. Ralph Marston

One of the biggest hurdles to keeping a consistent attitude of gratitude is our constant desire for something better than what we already have.   Rather than focus on how blessed we are to have what we have and to be where we are, we tend to see what isn’t perfect about our situation and dwell on that, instead.  With thinking like that, we quickly become dissatisfied with things that just a short time ago delighted us.

I see it quite often in my twenty-something daughter.  Last year she relocated to Florida to start over anew.  She had become dissatisfied with her life in South Carolina, and being the good mommy I helped her drive the U-Haul down and gave her my couch to sleep on while she worked it all out.  For a few weeks, she was absolutely thrilled to be out of her previous situation, and had lots of hope for her future.  But soon I began to notice a pattern with her:  first, the couch wasn’t good enough.  “I’m used to my own house, mother.  I can’t sleep  on a couch … I need my own room.”   I gave her half my closet space:  “I can’t fit all my stuff in this tiny closet!”  I gave up my sewing desk so she could have a desk to work at:  “There’s not enough light, and this desk is too small.”  I bought her a truck so she could work, and possibly buy some stuff that would please her:  “I can’t drive a truck this color!”  Well, you get the picture.

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“I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people:  that each protects the solitude of the other.” Rainer Maria Rilke

When you share your home with other people, finding peaceful moments of solitude can sometimes be a challenge.  No matter how much we love our famiy and friends, we all need some quiet time to ourselves every now and again.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have the house to myself for the last few days, and suddenly realize that it’s been several months since I’ve had the chance to sit quietly by myself.  Until recently, I lived alone and spent entire days in quiet solitude, happily occupying myself with whatever little project struck my fancy.  But life has a way of moving on, whether you want it to or not, and I’m learning to adjust to having people around all the time.

I had planned, during these few days alone, to catch up on work that had fallen behind.  Instead, I found myself sitting quietly in the yard, feeling the fresh air on my skin and getting lost in the sounds and smells of a warm winter Florida day.  I find that if I sit quietly for a little while, I begin to actually hear the sounds that escape me when my brain is full of things I need to remember and places I need to go.  When I’m still, I can finally notice the delicate scent of the orange blossoms on my neighbor’s tree, and I have time to watch the kittens playing in the yard.  When was the last time you were able to just sit quietly all by yourself for even a few minutes?

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“When we love something it is of value to us, and when something is of value to us we spend time with it, time enjoying it and time taking care of it.  Observe a teenager in love with his car and note the time he will spend admiring it, polishing it, repairing it, tuning it.  Or an older person with a beloved rose garden, and the time spent pruning and mulching and fertilizing and studying it.  So it is when we love children; we spend time admiring them and caring for them.  We give them our time.”   M. Scott Peck M.D., The Road Less Traveled

I always say that our relationships are our most valuable treasures.  Relationships bring texture to our lives.  Important life events are hollow without someone to share them with, and possessions are meaningless if we enjoy them alone.  We are on this planet to be in relationship with each other, and relationships take time.

If you’re anything like me, your life is very busy.   There is money to be made, and phone calls to make, errands to run and chores to take care of.  There are club meetings, committees, church, rehearsals, leads groups, and countless other obligations eating up your time.   The result of all this activity is that we tend to neglect the very people whose presence in our lives make everything meaningful.  Our kids try to share things with us, but we’re on the phone or making dinner so we shoo them away: “Mommy’s talking — don’t interrupt!”  Tonight, for instance, I’m writing this blog about paying attention to the people you love, but because I’m trying to make my Wednesday deadline, I’m only pretending to listen to Keith on the couch next to me trying to tell me about his day.   When we’re too busy, the people we love most pay the price of our neglect.

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One of the biggest obstacles to maintaining a consistent attitude of gratitude toward life is the tendency to worry.  Worry is a symptom of fear, but then if you’re a worrier you already know that, don’t you?.  Worry is obsessive and addicting.  Once your brain latches on to a worrisome thought, it tends to get stuck there and attract more worried thoughts just like it.  The bad part is that once your brain gets stuck in that worrying mode, you’re sending out some powerful negative energy that is attracting into your life the very thing that you’re worried about.  Worry sets you up for the worst kind of self-fulfilling prophecy.

I remember when I was much younger, watching Gone With the Wind and looking down on Scarlett O’Hara with disdain when she exclaimed, “Fiddle-dee-dee!  I won’t worry about that today.  I’ll worry about that tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow is another day!”  I felt superior because I would never be that irresponsible.  Responsible people would be worrying about that stuff TODAY, not tomorrow.  We must face up to our hardships!  We can’t just be in denial!

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“From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: that we are here for the sake of each other – above all for those upon whose smile and well-being our own happiness depends, and also for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day I realize how much my own outer and inner life is built upon the labors of my fellow men, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.”

~ Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

As 2008 draws to a close, I find my mind is led backwards in time as I re-evaluate the past twelve months and set my goals for the coming year.  Outwardly, today will be spent getting ready for the New Year’s Eve bonfire with close friends and neighbors.  It will be a festive day, with a focus on celebrating all of the good things we have accomplished this year.  Today all our fears and insecurities concerning the future will be temporarily swept aside, and we will instead celebrate the wealth of our abundance, no matter how small our treasures may outwardly appear.   As I look back on the past year, I find that the things I am most grateful for are the small things.

This past year, my personal focus has been on building a network marketing business.  My days have been spent making phone calls and attending networking events.  In the process, I’ve become very good at building relationships, both online and in person, and my life has become far richer precisely because of the friends I have made.

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“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.  Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”   Melody Beattie

wizard of oz unveiled

Fear makes us do some drastic things that appear on the surface to be reasonable.   For the past two years, for instance, I’ve been heavy into personal development, trying to be the best me that I can be.  My iPod is filled with inspirational and motivational speakers like Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, and Joel Osteen, and with positive-thinking textbooks like Wallace Wattle’s The Science of Being Rich, Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, Jerry and Esther Hick’s Abraham series, and The Secret.  I play that stuff constantly, sometimes letting them play all through the night when I should really be sleeping.  My iPod is so filled with inspirational tracks that I don’t even have room to keep music on it any more.  That really should have been my first clue that something was out of balance here.  I mean, I’m a musician.  Shouldn’t I be listening to music?

Two weeks ago I reached the saturation point in my quest for personal development.  I had signed up for a high-powered six-day event presented by an internationally acclaimed peak performance specialist who promised to make me into the most powerful me possible.  He promised to remove the internal conflicts that had been holding me back from reaching my true potential.  He promised he could integrate all the parts of me so that they were all working together rather than at cross-purposes with each other.   As a personal development addict how could I resist?  So I dragged my brother along with me and off we went to see the wizard.

The first two days were tolerable.  Oh, the music was unnecessarily loud, and there was way too much perky jumping around and shouting for my liking, but the material was useful so we endured the discomfort and stuck it out.  By day three we were exhausted by the continual assault on our senses combined with sleep deprivation, food deprivation and the frigid cold of the room.  We started to notice that although we were in the meeting room for about 15 hours every day, the actual content we were receiving was pretty much all delivered in the first two days.  Then it dawned on us:  we were being brainwashed.   As the group was whipped into an enthusiastic mass-hysteria and shouting their power incantations, we were shouting, “We will not be assimilated!”  We didn’t last the whole six days.

I felt like Dorothy and her friends in the Wizard of Oz.  Like them, my brother and I had undertaken the dangerous journey all the way to the Emerald City.  Once there, the Wizard put us through trials of physical, mental, and emotional endurance with the promise that we would receive our heart’s desire if we persevered.  Like them, we withstood the trials only to find out in the end that the wizard was all smoke and mirrors after all.  What a let down.

Once Toto reveals that the so-called Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz is actually just an old guy from Kansas with no more powers than you or I have, the travelling foursome discover the truth about themselves.  You might say they reached enlightenment.  They realized that everything they had been searching for had always existed within them.  All they ever had to do was believe in their own power.  The Scarecrow, who always felt inferior because he believed he didn’t have a brain, turned out to be the smartest one of them all.  The Tin Man, who cried because he believed he had no heart, actually had the greatest capacity for love.  And the poor Cowardly Lion turned out to be the most courageous of them all, precisely because he was the most afraid.

But what Dorothy learned was the most powerful lesson of all.  Dorothy learned the lesson of gratitude and appreciation for her grey and normal life back in Kansas.  She learned that if she ever goes searching for her heart’s desire again, she’ll know that if it isn’t in her own back yard she never really lost it to begin with.  In the end, Dorothy learned to see her life in a more positive light.   She learned that her relationships with her aunt and uncle, the farm hands, the local drifter and her brave little dog, Toto, were the most valuable treasure she possessed.  She learned that the way to access her greatest personal power was to fill her heart with as much love and appreciation as she could muster for her life as it is.  She learned to see beauty where before she had seen only grey.  She learned to see love and connectedness where before she had only seen conflict.  She learned to be grateful for her life just as it is right now in this very moment.

I’ve been watching The Wizard of Oz my whole life.  When my daughter was three we watched it two or three times a day for a year.  You’d think I would have learned Dorothy’s lesson right along with her.  But, as Glinda explains, “She had to learn it for herself.”  You see, for the past two years I’ve been frantically following one personal development guru after another because I’ve been reacting to the fear that I’m not enough:  I’m not smart enough, not loving enough, not courageous enough.  I’ve believed that if I learn enough and if I push myself hard enough, and if I think thoughts that are positive enough, that someday I will be enough.  I’ve believed that I just need to get to the Wizard and he’ll make everything ok.

Well, it turns out the Wizard wasn’t all that, so I’ve decided to finally embrace Dorothy’s lesson and to be completely grateful for my life just as it is.  I’ve learned to truly appreciate the people in my life, and to cherish the love that we share between us.  I’ve learned to be grateful for all that I am, do, and have, and to believe that my life is perfect and whole just as it is.

So I’m putting music back into my iPod.  Instead of being hungry to soak in other people’s wisdom, I’m going to reverse the flow and begin to give back.  Instead of learning, I’ll write.  Instead of listening, I’ll make music.  Instead of being afraid and dissatisfied, I’ll be consciously grateful for every part of my life just as it is.  Because as Dorothy discovered, there really is no place like home.

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