What Matters Most?

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”- Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

“The best things in life are the people you love, the places you’ve seen, and the memories you’ve made along the way.” -Tab D’Biassi Photographer, Lessons Learned in Life

As the year draws to a close, and we celebrate the things we’re grateful for, and the abundant gifts we’ve been given, I wanted to write something pertaining to the season.

On Black Thursday/Friday fights broke out over sale items and videos of these fights were posted on YouTube and social media sights for all to see. Hum…

I’ve been thinking about that a great deal in the last few days.

Many of the spiritual teachers I read say that we learn by observing contrasts. In other words, we see or experience something we don’t like or want and that helps us define what we do want. Here are some contrasts to think about.

We live in the richest country on earth, but we have the highest prison population in the world, and a growing working poor population. The rich get richer and the poor, poorer and the middle class dwindles. That’s quite a contrast. So, what can we observe and learn from that?

I can’t tell you what you should get from that, that’s your job. This is what I’m learning about that.

First, we live in an abundant universe with plenty of things, money and beauty to go around.

A few months ago, I took a writing workshop on observation. You can’t be a good writer if you’re not observant of all that’s going on around you. The instructor related two stories of friends and family coming to visit him here in the Arizona desert. They remarked at how barren it is. Not saying much, he took them outside and pointed out things for them to observe. Here’s what he was trying to get them to see. Most people think the desert is desolate. It’s not. Embedded in the ground are rocks of every color. The desert teems with wildlife. You just have to stand still and look. For example, my husband and I found fuzzy red bugs in our front yard one fall shortly after we bought our house in the country. We’d never seen anything like them. The desert supports all kinds of plant and animal life. We’ve seen deer, rabbits, roadrunners, lizards, javelina, coyotes, snakes, countless varieties of birds, bear, bobcats, mountain lion and many other insects and animals since moving here.

Then there’s the sky, which was another thing the instructor pointed out to his friends. Every morning and evening at sunrise and sunset the sky turns the most magnificent colors. On the opposite horizon from the sun, the sky turns lavender. And the light creeps from the east to the north and south so we’re surrounded on three sides by glorious colors. The night sky is even more spectacular. The first time I saw the Arizona sky at night, I was moved to tears. So many stars cover the sky that it looks like someone dumped diamonds onto a black quilt. Having come from Portland, Oregon where the sky is cloudy most of the time, I was enthralled.

All it takes is a few moments to stop and appreciate the beauty wherever you live and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The universe is abundant in lots of other ways as well. We just need to appreciate it and allow it to flow to us.

Second, the true gifts we give have nothing to do with how much money we’ve spent on the gift.

I’m not saying it’s not nice to get and give expensive gifts. That’s wonderful. What I’m saying is that the best gifts are given and received when thoughtfulness and love accompany them. And often the best gifts don’t cost a thing. Things like spending loving time with family. That takes so many forms. For example, on Thanksgiving Barry and I drove over to my cousin’s house for dinner and we met the newest member of our family. We’ll remember holding her and looking into her eyes and playing with her older sister as long as we live. It was a wonderful day. We enjoyed the company of our extended family and their friends. Nothing can replace good memories.

Third, hold onto and appreciate the things that matter most. Is that going to be the TV you bought on sale on Thanksgiving day, or during Cyber Week? As my dad used to say, “In a hundred years who’s going to remember?” However, in a hundred years people will look back on this time and remember us. They’ll analyze what we learned and if we made the world a better place in which to live.

What matters most to you and how can you celebrate that?

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden

I Refuse to be Pessimistic

“If all you do is spend time focusing on what the problem is, you leave no room open for the solution.” –Mastin Kipp

“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”– Martin Luther King Jr.

“Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.” –Jane Goodall

Why do we do it? Why do we always go to the cynical, pessimistic place first? Some unexpected challenge happens, and we go immediately into a panic. I do it too.

Something happened this week that made me see that I do that. I didn’t like it and I declared: “I refuse to be pessimistic!” All of a sudden I’d had it up to here (hand placed above my head) with cynicism and being pessimistic about life.

It happened at my book club group. We got to talking about the younger generation. (We’re a group of Baby Boomers.) One of the women said that she didn’t understand the younger generation and the discussion turned, as it always does with the older generation, to concern about whether or not the future was in good hands.

This kind of discussion gets my ire up. I guess it’s because I’ve been a teacher in one form and another for thirty-five years. I’ve taught high school and college classes for fifteen years, and every year, I’m excited by how bright and thoughtful my students are. So, I spoke up and said that I have faith in the younger generation and then I declared, “I refuse to be pessimistic about the young people today! I refuse to be pessimistic about anything!” This caused the other women to pause.

Later, I thought about it and I’ve decided that a better way to say it is, “I’m determined to be positive.”

My generation went through a lot of horrible stuff. We got shell shocked, so letting go of cynicism might be hard. We suffered through assassinations, multiple wars, a loss of innocence about government, and the turmoil around the Civil Rights of humans in this country. Many of those struggles go on today. But, our children have gone through some rough times too. That’s why we need to give them a break.

Let’s face it, life’s been hard for people throughout the centuries, but being pessimistic hasn’t made us happier. So I propose, we turn our thoughts to looking for the positive things happening in our lives.

Now I know that’s not easy. Some people have depression or other mental challenges, which means their brains have a hard time going to those positive places. At least it’s hard to do without help. However, those of us who can snap out of a funk need to give changing our thinking a try. All it takes is paying attention to our reactions and what we say about our challenges both inside our heads, and verbally.

As we all know life’s not all a bed roses and rainbows. Everything worth doing grows out of commitment and struggle. The baby is born with a lot of pain and effort on the part of the mother. But the pain and struggle vanish the moment the baby arrives. The child goes to school and learns discipline so they can be educated. At each achievement the child sees the value of the effort. The artist uses talent, discipline and an open connection to something larger than themselves to create their work, which gives pleasure. Any endeavor humans undertake is fraught with challenges. But people keep having babies, and children continue to go to school. Artists continue to follow their muses and create. People still start businesses, volunteer, or work for good causes. Life goes on and society progresses. The reason we continue to strive is because we see the benefits of the effort.

So, I propose for those of us who can, let’s make the effort to stop being cynical and pessimistic about the future. I don’t mean that we should ignore the problems we face. What I propose is that we look at the problems in a new way. What if, when faced with a challenge, we said to ourselves, “There is a solution to this and I can find it.”

So, going back to my generation’s relationship with our children, what if we trusted them? What if we remembered what it was like to face the condemnation of our parents and grandparents and refused to do that to our children and grandchildren? We Baby Boomers are rabble rousers. Let’s continue to be rabble rousers and strive to understand and support our children as they make their contributions to society. After all they came into the world we built for them. We have to take responsibility for that.

My generation has done some pretty amazing things. I trust the generations coming along to do even more astonishing things that will help make this world a better place in which to live. In fact they already are.

And, since I’m not ready to give up making my contributions to society, I’m going to stop concentrating on the ills, and look for all the good things that are happening. When enough of us do that, who knows what great things we’ll create.

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden
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I Did It!

“It’s easy to attack and destroy an act of creation. It’s a lot more difficult to perform one.” –Chuck Palahniuk

I did it! I finished the rough draft of my novel. It’s been a long two years, mostly because I didn’t do a plot outline. I just picked up a novel I’d started about fourteen years ago and I started writing. Oh, I had a basic idea of where the story was going, but I trusted the writing gods to lead me.

This is what I discovered: The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write. Ideas come in my dreams, meditations, while I’m driving, cooking and in the shower. Every morning I wake up and feel that tug at my heart to get my fingers on the computer keys.

Finishing the rough draft doesn’t mean my work is finished. Oh, no. Now comes the fun part, revising. I get to make what I’ve written better. Then, I’ll send it out and get other people’s perspective and then I’ll revise again.

Writing is like life; we’re always revising, always improving, always discovering ourselves. When we’ve finished improving one aspect of our lives, we start on another. I love that. I love that I’m never going to be finished, with writing, or with expanding my life. Watch out. I could live forever. I’m having too much fun to give it up now.

The other day my husband and I were at a gallery opening where he has artwork. One of my former drama students was there with her husband and new baby. She and I have kept in contact over the years and she said something that made me take pause. “I admire the way you’re following your dreams.” That kind of threw me for a loop. I followed my dreams because I couldn’t do otherwise. My soul called and I had to answer. Some people don’t get that. I was humbled that she did. She’s a theatre artist, though, so maybe that’s why. Artist follow their hearts, take chances and sometimes the world doesn’t understand them. I guess we all have trouble understanding each other. Great art brings us closer together.

I’m not saying my novel is high art, nevertheless, it has changed my life and I’m grateful for that.

Oh, and this holiday season, support local and independent artists, designers and crafters. They have bills to pay too. And you’ll be giving a unique and beautiful piece of art into which someone put their soul.

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden
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The Power of Play

“Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream.” – John Lennon

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”  — Mark Twain

Recently, a debate arose on Facebook among my college friends about the possible elimination of winter term from Graceland University’s educational year. (A note to Elvis fans, Graceland University was in existence long before Elvis’ Graceland.)

It started off by one of my friends saying he thought it was a good thing to eliminate winter term so that students could focus on real learning. He set off a firestorm of discussion. I found out later he’d never attended Graceland, even though it is sponsored by the Church he belongs to, so he’d never experienced the benefits of such a program. In his defense I’ll say, it’s like him to post comments that promote discussion.

Let me explain what winter term was when I attended Graceland. During the month of January, students had a chance to sign up for one seminar type class. These were outside the normal college curriculum. Students could try out a discipline they were interested in, but didn’t have time to fit into their regular schedule, or they could take a trip to exotic places. Others opted to take art or music classes, or classes in their subject area that weren’t offered at any other time. Students were encouraged to play, and explore. The schedule was relaxed and we had lots of one-on-one time with the instructors.

Two good things about winter term: It was a way to ease back into the intensity of the spring semester. And it was a great chance to get to know a new set of people while exploring a new subject area. Yes, some students did a lot of goofing off, however, there were required assignments to do as part of these classes, though the requirements were more lenient. I have to say, I got a lot out of playing and learning at the same time.

Now maybe it’s because I’ve studied theatre, but I think play is a very important component to learning. Our minds and bodies get tired when we work too hard. It’s good to give them both some rest through play. When I taught High School English classes, I’d build in creative projects, or activities that encouraged discussion and an element of fun. It was a necessity since the classes were one hundred minutes long. I did this based on my feeling that play enhances learning. However, I was supported in that notion when I took a series of workshops meant to help ELL students (English Language Learners) succeed in not only learning the language, but learning the information being presented in class. Many of the activities presented in those workshops encouraged us to help the students talk with each other so peer learning could take place. The activities got the students out of their seats moving around and thinking in new ways.

While I was doing my guided meditation this morning, I had a new insight about hard work VS play. I’m one of those people who believed the axiom that to be prosperous, you need to work hard and sacrifice you free time. This morning that was shattered by the knowledge that the opposite is actually true. If I hadn’t been involved in theatre all these years, where it’s fun to do the “work”, I might never have seen the error in my thinking.

What I realized is that, “hard work” is something you do when you’re not aligned with you’re task. It’s a struggle to do the job, because it’s not your highest purpose. Nearly six years ago, I found that I was a good teacher, but it wasn’t my highest purpose and I was exhausted at the end of each day, unless I was directing a play. Then the day ended on a high note and I felt energized.

So, the word play can mean different things. It can mean goofing off and neglecting the task at hand. But, I think the best interpretation of play is, engaging in something you truly love to do, something that energizes and enriches your life. When we play to enrich our lives, we become more relaxed and the creative ideas flow.

The day I knew that I was meant to be a writer was one of the best days of my life, though I didn’t know it at the time. I’ve learned the joy of “playing” every day doing what I love. My life is rich and full and I’ve let go of the need to control events so that I can become prosperous. My little voice tells me to concentrate on perfecting my skills and let serendipity guide me when it’s time to promote and market my work.

I’m wondering, do you play to enhance your life? Are you doing what you love? If not, how could your life be better by doing so?

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden
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Be Bold

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”
– Franz Kafka

“Freedom lies in being bold.” – Robert Frost

These are two new favorite quotes of mine. When I read the quote by Kafka, I had to admit that for many years, I did edit my soul. I hid my true self. We all do it to a certain extent. We want to be liked, and to fit in. But I think there comes a point when we have to make a choice to be true to ourselves, or follow the crowd.

As I became older and got bolder about sharing my point of view, I was told my ideas were unique. Like most people, I longed to be unique and special, so little by little I blossomed and gained confidence in who I was.

Now that I’m 60 years old, I’m much bolder about sharing what I think. I still temper what I’m saying. Being sensitive enough to know how to state your truth is important. I’ve never been blunt like my youngest sister, even though over the years I’ve envied her “I don’t care what you think of me” attitude. I’ve learned a great lesson from her, however. It doesn’t matter what others think. What matters is what I think of myself. It’s nice to know we’ve influenced each other. She’s softer in her interactions with people and I’m more open about sharing my true self.

One of the ways I share my inner most thoughts is through my “intense obsession”, writing. Sometimes I think it’s not a very important contribution to make to a changing world. Yet, it’s the thing that grasps me. My writing projects are the first thing I think about when I wake in the morning and the last thing I think about upon going to sleep.

When people ask me why I chose to quit my full-time teaching job to write, I struggle with what to tell them. Then this week I watched an episode of Super Soul Sunday. Oprah was interviewing Rob Bell author of What We Talk About When We Talk About God. During the interview, he mentioned two words that describe perfectly what makes me write. The first is a German word GRENZBEGRIFF: “That which is real but beyond analysis and description.” I believe all creative people follow something that is real to them, but beyond analysis and description.

The second word that is now one of my favorites, is the ancient Hebrew word, RUACH, which means: “an explosive, expansive, surprising, creative energy that surges through all things.” Oh, how I’ve tried to describe that surge of energy that is with me every waking moment, and often in my dreams. It’s that energy that urges me to follow the flow, be bold and write.

Have you experienced a reality that is beyond description and a surge of energy that calls to you be bold and follow your dreams? If so, be bold and go for it!

© Lucinda Sage-Midgorden