Category Archives: Practical Wisdom

 

I have heard from several friends that they missed the news that my book came out a few weeks ago, so here it is again.  You may find Practical Wisdom online at Amazon or Barnes and Noble .  Or, if you’re local, I have copies in my office.  If you like what you see, please leave a positive review.  Thanks!

Practical Wisdom–The Effect of Environment

It’s been awhile since I posted any Practical Wisdom reflections.  For those who don’t recall, these are quotes of wisdom, followed by a reflection, followed by prompts for you to respond by creating art, journaling, or simply thinking about.  These are intended, over time, to create transformation rather than simply providing a warm, fuzzy, emotional response.  My forthcoming book, Practical Wisdom–A Guide to Moving from Inspiration to Transformation, contains dozens of these reflections, categorized by topic.  I hope you enjoy this sample.

We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behavior and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.

Lawrence George Durrell

Indian-born and of British descent, Lawrence George Durrell (1912-1990) was a novelist who considered himself cosmopolitan rather than a citizen of any one country.

I haven’t lived in the Midwest for over 25 years, and I am happy with my life and current home. Yet, every spring, I develop a strong bout of homesickness. I miss the strong scent of freshly plowed, fertile soil. I miss the vibrant chartreuse of crops as they pop out of that soil. I miss being able to see the horizon. I miss my friends and activities and work from when I lived there. The bout of homesickness and nostalgia is gripping and lasts from several days to a week.

Once it passes, I am myself again. However, I know that primal love and connection to the place where I grew up affects me in many ways that I have yet to realize. What’s more, my personality internalized Midwestern culture and values, and I am not always aware of that, either.

Others who’ve lived their formative years elsewhere undoubtedly wonder how I can be so sentimental about a bunch of farm land that lacks mountain vistas or sandy ocean beaches. The answer is that, in many ways, I am a child of the land where I was born.

The same is almost certainly true of you, too. Even if you have no desire to return to the region or regions where you spent your childhood, you are still, in some way, affected by that environment.

Questions and Thoughts for Consideration

In what ways are you nostalgic about the place or places you spent your childhood? What images, sounds, and smells are of particular importance to you?

What have friends or co-workers had to say about the places where you lived?

If you have moved frequently throughout your life, how has the process of continually changing your environment affected you?

Environment includes culture. Spent some time thinking and journaling about how the cultures you inhabited affect you now. How do you feel about the depth and strength of that influence?

Practical Wisdom–Reacting to Change

This is the time of year when many of us slow to take stock in our lives and make changes, including New Year’s resolutions. Many experts advise us that we fail to follow through on the changes we want to make due to a lack of willpower, but I wonder if it’s the change itself that slows us down.

If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Attributed to Maya Angelou

I have always thought of myself as open to change and as one who’s not especially attached to material things. That changed a bit when we learned we needed to replace our washing machine.

Before it broke down completely, I researched new machines and sought the advice of our repairman. My husband and I decided on a particular make and model that we thought would perform well, meet our family’s needs, and be water/electricity efficient. We were satisfied with our decision, but when we went to purchase our selection, we learned that the charcoal gray color cost significantly more than the white. Because it felt foolish to pay so much extra just for color, we bought the model in white.

Leaving the store, I felt pleased by our choice, with the exception of one thing: the color. I still wanted the charcoal gray, even though it wasn’t a sensible choice.   Over the next several hours, I realized that I was actually mourning the loss of what I thought was a pretty appliance, and those feelings of sadness and loss caught me by surprise. After all, I don’t consider myself especially materialistic, and the machine is not ugly; it’s just white. I spent time just sitting with those upset feelings and wondering about them.

The next day, I realized that it was all about change.  I have had a charcoal gray washing machine in one form or another for almost 20 years. Plus, my old machine had served my family well, and I’d never had to think much about it. It was just there, ready and waiting every time I needed it. I hadn’t realized the comfort that came with that trustworthiness. I could be on auto pilot and not think about the machine at all; I could just use it.

Recognizing that I wasn’t attached to the machine itself but instead was attached to the comfort and aesthetics it provided was liberating. I realized that I could change because the new machine will be just as reliable and perhaps even more so. I realized that I could make it seem pretty and please my sense of aesthetics by painting the laundry room. I can adapt and make the best of this change even after close to 20 years of things being the same.

I felt silly in the wake of my brief washing machine upset, but I think I learned a few things about change and me.

THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION

Where in your life has a change upset you or caught you by surprise?

When in your life have you resisted change?

Are you facing or perhaps denying the need for change in your life right now?

Are there minor tweaks, such as repainting the laundry room is for my situation, that you can make in your life to allow yourself to be more fully open to change?

Practical Wisdom–Your Inner Compass

Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes…Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves.

Henry David Thoreau

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was an American author, philosopher, and transcendentalist whose most famous work, Walden, continues to influence lives today.

 

When I was nine years old, my parents divorced and I had to attend a new school in a new, small town. I was shown the way to get there when my mother registered me, and the next school day, I headed out the door with some trepidation about what the other kids in my class would be like but completely confident that I could find my way to school without a problem.

The fact that there was a heavy, pea-soup fog that kept me from seeing more than a few feet in front of me wasn’t a worry. I knew the school was only a short walk away and trusted myself to get there.  Then, as I reached an intersection, the nature of the pavement changed from asphalt to a gravelly aggregate.  The many pebbles and bits of gravel in the road made me worried I had reached the end of town—my new house was only a couple of blocks from a corn field, after all—and I was stopped cold.  I thought the right way to school was directly in front of me, but the road change made me think that if I kept going straight, I’d end up out in the country and hopelessly lost.

I peered intensely into the fog but could see nothing in any direction. My choices were to turn around and go home, where I knew I’d receive a scolding, keep going straight and potentially end up hopelessly lost out in the country, or turn to the left, which I knew would take me further in to town but would not necessarily get me to school.  To be late on my first day would have been an utter disaster and embarrassment, I was certain.  It was all just too much, and I froze, paralyzed by my inability to see combined with not trusting my inner compass because it conflicted with the more tangible gravelly road.

Within a couple of minutes, I saw a dark shadow off to my left. Another kid was walking in the fog, and he or she boldly strode into the gray mist, apparently unaware of the gravel on the road that portended disappearance into the freshly harvested corn rows.  It occurred to me that if that person was walking into the fog without fear, then maybe it was the right way to go.

I walked after this person into the fog. The road remained a weird, pebbly aggregate and never turned to actual gravel.  And then, not long after I could no longer see the intersection behind me, I began to make out the black shadows of the two-story tall evergreens that lined the playground of the elementary school.  I still couldn’t see the school, but I knew the trees would help me find my way; I was going to be okay.

THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION

Journal or sketch your reactions to the quote and the reflection on it. Then, consider the following questions:

Starting a new calendar year means that many of us are striving to start new things and head down new paths. Where are you headed?  Do you have a clear map of how to get there?

What tools will you take along so that when the path forward gets foggy and unclear, you’ll discern what to do next?

What will you do if you get lost in the fog?

Trust is a huge factor in starting new adventures, whether your goals are large or modest. What do you trust yourself to do when the next steps aren’t clear?  What signs and messages from within yourself will you trust?

What can you do to remember to be kind to yourself and engage in second-guessing when you feel confused?

Practical Wisdom–Getting Your Needs Met

Nothing, I am sure, calls forth the faculties so much as the being obliged to struggle with the world.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) was an English scholar, philosopher, writer, and women’s rights activist who was a champion for giving women access to education. Her daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wrote Frankenstein.

 

Once a week, I do volunteer work that involves sitting at the information desk of a local church. Although what I do is unaffiliated with the church, I am asked many questions related to the church and try to help when I can. One afternoon, a man strode purposefully into the lobby and up to the desk.  Catching my eye, he tapped his index finger to his head multiple times and informed me that he had memory problems and needed help getting back to a shelter.  He repeated his sentence in a rote manner until I was able to interrupt and promise to help.

I managed to identify the shelter he told me to find and make contact with a social worker who promised to send a van to get “Mike” and expressed astonishment that he had wandered so far. Mike sat with me while awaiting his ride, and the next thing I knew, he’d told me many significant, tragic stories about his life.  In fact, he repeated each of his stories at least half a dozen times, breaking my heart as I realized how awful much of his life had been and the extent of his memory problems.  Reading in between the lines of his stories, I realized that multiple traumas had set him up in such a way that it was practically impossible to make healthy decisions, and I felt as if it was easy to see how he’d ended up as he had, finally sober but brain-damaged and homeless.

He remained on my mind and even kept me awake that evening as I wondered what I could do to be beneficial in his life beyond helping him get back where he belonged. The next day, I called the shelter, and it turned out that he wasn’t truly homeless; he’d become lost walking out the door of the home he’d just moved into, and he couldn’t recall that he had a place to live.  He also had an incredible network of support around him that was providing for his basic needs as a result of the social worker who obviously cared profoundly about his well-being.

In the end, I realized that Mike’s ability to reach out for what he needed in life went far beyond his ability to find a church to help and recite a script when he got lost; he knew how to touch people’s hearts and receive care and love in return.

THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION

Journal or sketch your responses to Wollstonecraft’s words and the reflection. Then, consider the following questions.

Where in life do you struggle with the world? How do you rise to the challenge?  What is your experience of how the world responds?

How have your struggles shaped your skills and mental abilities? What have you been called upon to do that you have not yet mastered?

Where do your needs remain unmet? What faculties do you need to call forth to get them met?

When have you been called upon to help meet someone else’s needs and ease their struggles with the world? How have you responded?

Practical Wisdom–Observing the Rules

This is the first of what I intend to be weekly posts that use quotes as a jumping-off point for self awareness and personal growth.  Grab a journal or sketch pad to record your responses and reactions to the questions at the end.  See my post from August 30th for more information.

 

The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

One of the finest writers of his times, American poet and author Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was also a physician, lecturer, university dean, and law student.

A young woman practically leapt out at me as I pulled into a pharmacy parking lot one afternoon a few months ago, because she seemed not to belong in the setting. Pretty to the point of being striking and perhaps not much more than 20 years old, she was sitting all folded up along the curb, with a heartbroken, almost forlorn look in her eyes and on her face. Her face haunted me as I did my shopping. I knew she was no midday drunk—in an instant, I had considered and dismissed the idea that her pained look had anything to do with substance abuse. My thoughts had moved on to awful possibilities, such as the idea that she might be a victim of human trafficking, which has become a big problem in our area, and I knew I’d continue to ruminate and worry about her if I drove off without checking on her. So, when I was finished shopping, I decided to drive by the place where the girl had been sitting, just to see if she was okay.

The girl was still folded up in the same position I’d first seen her, so I rolled my car window down to ask if she was okay. She replied that she had gotten to the pharmacy by bus and now wasn’t sure how to get home, because she’d waited over an hour, and no bus had come. I explained that I didn’t know much about the bus schedule except that it didn’t run as frequently in the middle of the day as it did in rush how. I asked where she was trying to go and what she needed, and she told me she could get home if she could only make her way to the metro.

I happened to be planning to drive right past the nearest Metro station. I knew intuitively that she was no threat, and so I mustered up my courage. I told her I’d never given a ride to a stranger before, but that if she wanted a ride, I was willing to take her to the Metro.

I could see her sizing me up, and then a look of relief crossed her face. Charmingly, she informed me that she’d be a safe passenger. “I’m not going to kill you or anything,“ she informed me earnestly.

On the ride to the subway, significant pieces of her life story poured out. She told me she’d recently moved to the area from out-of-state because her fiancé had died, and she’d decided to move home with her mother. She told me many other private things that out of respect for her I will not share, but I got stuck on the idea of what it must be like to grieve when one doesn’t have society’s stamp of legally being a widow, especially at such a young age. It also clarified for me why she looked so lost and forlorn when I first noticed her.

After I dropped her off, I called my husband to tell him what I’d done, not because I believed I had been in any danger, but because I felt guilty about breaking the safety rule of never giving a ride to a stranger. He was unsurprised that the young woman had shared so much of her life story with me, because people randomly share so much with me. He also thought it was no coincidence we’d been thrown briefly together. I agree.

 

THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS FOR CONSIDERATION

We all have rules of life we follow, most of which become automatic and receive no thought from us. Consider your rules of life. What are the significant ones? Why do you follow them? What has been the outcome of breaking one or more of them? What did you learn? Do you have regrets?

The young woman I met was grieving the loss of her fiancé. Would you feel differently about her and her loss if she’d been a newlywed? What if she’d been slightly older and married several years? What if the fiancé’s death had been from something like a drug overdose rather than disease or an accident? How would that change your reaction?

How do your unspoken rules of life serve you? Have they kept you safe, perhaps? How have they harmed or hindered you?

 

 

Practical Wisdom for Creating Change

Next to the originator of a good sentence is the first quoter of it.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Who doesn’t love the feeling of inspiration that comes from reading the quoted words of our wise and sometimes humorous ancestors? Especially over the past decade or so, inspirational quotes have been appearing everywhere from social media and email signature lines to headings in chapters of books.  I even have a few on refrigerator magnets.

A few years ago, I began to wonder about how those brief feel-good moments from reading a quote could be taken a step further and used to create meaningful change in one’s life. It seemed to me that there is a richness that can come from taking in the practical words of wisdom available to us and using them as agents of change.

I know it can be done, because it happened to me. As an undergraduate, there was a point at which I worried I wasn’t going to be able to make it in college, would lose my scholarship, and would have to leave.  One day at about the high point of my anxiety, I received a newsletter from a group to which I belonged, and it contained the following quote from Winston Churchill, “If the motivation be sufficient, even a donkey might fly.” Those words hit me hard, and from them, I found the encouragement to keep working hard toward my goals.  My anxiety dissipated, and everything shifted.  All these years later, I still have that quote clipped and set aside for moments at which I lose my courage and resolve.

As a result of this experience, I have over time compiled a large number of quotes on subjects related to personal growth and change. With each of them, I have written a reflection on the quote and composed questions designed to make the reader stop, reflect, journal, and shift as a result.  They are part of a forthcoming book, but I will occasionally be posting quotes and reflections here in this blog.  I hope you enjoy them and, more importantly, use them!

 

Note:  Emerson’s quote can be found on page 67 of The Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Volume XVI 1866-1882, Ronald A. Bosco and Glen M. Johnson, eds., The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1982.