Martin Luther King – Peace on Earth

An excerpt from a Martin Luther King sermon, called Peace on Earth

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. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.

Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker.

And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. Half the world and the two thousand generations that came before us.

Martin Luther King always gives us pause for reflection. The practice of Naikan gives us a direct opportunity to experience this inter-relatedness in our daily life. This can make all the difference.

 

 

Christmas time with GK Chesterton

“What has happened to me has been the very reverse of what appears to be the experience of most of my friends. Instead of dwindling to a point, Santa Claus has grown larger and larger in my life until he fills almost the whole of it. It happened in this way.

As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation.  I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking.  I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it.  I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them.  I had not even been good – far from it.

And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . .  What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.  I have merely extended the idea.

Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void.

Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking.  Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.”    G K Chesterton

This Christmas note is clearly not Naikan, yet there are elements of Naikan tucked within the sentences and the perspective that Chesterton brings to this short piece of writing. His reflection inspires me every month of the year but particularly in December during our holiday season.

I wish goodwill to all, and may we all continue to notice the wellspring of support that we receive day by day. May we also never miss the chance to be the one who lights up another’s life when their light is fading.

 

Reviewing the Day

Nine years ago, when my Granddaughter Sophie was not quite three, I had the pleasure of putting her to bed, when I would come to visit, from across the country. We would sit in the big cozy rocking chair in her room and I would ask what story she would like to hear. It was the same every evening.

“Nana, please tell me the story of when I “woked” up today.”

And so we reviewed the day. I told her the story of my coming into her room around 7:30 when she woke up, helping her get dressed, having breakfast, listening to music, dancing, going to the park,… we talked about each meal, each friend, and concluded with a litany of everyone who loves her. Rather like a prayer.

It was a quiet sweet time and if I missed something she immediately jumped in to correct the omission. It was amazing the detail she recalled: from colours, sounds, birds, trees, flowers, people and she was a stickler for accuracy. Her observation skills were highly developed and inspired mine. I noticed more when I was with her.

At two and a half, paying attention to the world seemed to come naturally. When I finished the story of the day, I said goodnight and tucked her in. Every night she added:

“Please sing a song from the stairs, Nana.”

And I did. Always twice.

I am sure there was no one in the world who loved my singing as much as Sophie and I treasure these memories still.

I adapted her “story time” for myself and was reminded of the wisdom to review my day before I went to sleep. So much bounty, beauty, detail and things that are mine to do along with the enormity of gifts received and my own omissions flashed across the screen of my mind. How grateful I was with the lingering memories of the day, the gentle promise to do a little better tomorrow and the reminder from a 27 month old what a useful “story” this reflection provided.

During this time of Thanksgiving, in particular, Naikan, a formal method for reviewing our day and a practice that can lead to gratitude, gives us the tools to reconsider our familiar stories, discover new ones and thus a precious opportunity to write better endings. I recommend it.

 

Achievements

We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean…and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.       Michelle Obama

Living in a culture where the “self-made” person is idolized, leaves little room for the gratitude and humility of which Michelle Obama writes. In fact we are eager to claim full credit for all of our efforts and achievements as we make our way through life. “Did it on my own…and so forth.”

I am curious about this narrative and I wonder if there is a method to check it out. Well, it just so happens that I do know a method. It is called Naikan and I have a simple suggestion for what you can do at home to see for yourself.

Take a piece of paper and across the top write out one of your significant achievements. Below, make a list of anyone and everyone who helped you realize that achievement. Be as thorough as you can and start all the way back to your grade one teacher who may have been the one who taught you how to read. As you reflect on your life and add to your list, do your best to recall things and people that you have come to take for granted and yet without them you may not have succeeded.  Look with fresh eyes.

Have no fear that this takes away from your efforts. You are simply expanding your view to consider the efforts of others on your behalf. Specific types of help that came your way from people who may have long since forgotten what they did for you.

This first question in the three question reflection of Naikan is important because, in this case, it can help to balance the scales of what we have achieved in our lives, “all on our own.”

Why is it even important? When we view our lives realistically we can see for ourselves how consistently we have been supported, at every turn, and this clear knowledge prompts the gratitude and humility of which Michelle Obama speaks. It gives us a chance to say thanks to those people (who are still alive) who helped us along the way and in turn to become one of those people providing a stepping stone for others.

A Way of Life

Many years ago I received a beautiful book from a friend. It is a manual of Epictetus with Calligraphy by Claude Mediavilla. I have always had an affinity to the stoics, especially Epictetus, so of course I have enjoyed perusing this small book.

One of the passages keeps leaping out at me, each time I pick-up the book.

Determine for yourself as of now
a way of life
a plan of conduct
that you will follow,
both when you are alone
and when you find yourself
with others.

Self-reflection is important all the time, but especially so when we are reminded that the length of our days don’t come with a guarantee. I think about this “way of life”, and variations on the theme and what it means to me. Some things are obvious and some are not. No matter our circumstances, conflicting purposes arise. Saying yes to this, means no to that. But one thing I know for sure is that heart, kindness, laughter, generosity and mending my fences, figure prominently in the plan. May I/we all choose wisely, and when we don’t, make amends and generously choose again.

Naikan is an exceptional practice for discerning and cultivating a “way of life,” that is meaningful to each of us, in our own ways.

 

Gratitude – a side effect of Naikan

Love is rooted in gratitude, its rooted in appreciation, and its rooted in not forgetting all of the things that are done for you by others every single day.        Dawa Tarchin Phillips from the article, Love Grows With Gratitude.

When I read those words yesterday my immediate reaction was YES! It is true. My next response was how perfectly Naikan is designed to help us cultivate noticing all of the ways we are helped every single day.

Take yesterday, as an example. While using the exercise of Daily Naikan I reflected for 15 minutes on  what specifically I had received from others and things in the past 24 hours that had been helpful.

 

  • The life giving benefit of the research of Dr Dennis Slamon and several other researchers, all unknown to me, who persevered against the odds to create the drug Herceptin that has extended my life.
  • The gift of a comfortable bed to help me rest during the night.
  • The company of my friend Ann during a 45 minute walk.
  • The beauty of thousands of tulips, in a variety of beds, skillfully designed and maintained by the gardeners for the City of Ottawa that I got to admire on my walk.
  • Remembering the annual gift of friendship of 10,000 tulips every year from the Netherlands to Ottawa as a thank you for liberating them in 1945.
  • The beaming smiles of baby Ewan that spontaneously exercised my smiling muscles in return.
  • A delicious vegetable omelet and a perfect cup of coffee from the people at Wild Oats, my neighbourhood coffee shop.
  • Helpful words by Stephen Cope, the author of The Great Work of Your Life, that I read while sipping coffee and waiting for my breakfast.
  • The freedom to sit in the backseat while my son-in-law did the driving during the downpour enroute to my Grandson’s Birthday party at “Clip and Climb.”
  • The gift of a free short performance from Cirque de Soleil – thanks to the Mexican Embassy’s community outreach that I got to watch with my grandchildren.
  • The offer of spots to sit, for my grandchildren, from Natasha who squished her family together so Sophie and Rowan could better see the performance.
  • A call from my 97 year old Mother checking in to see how her 70 year old daughter was doing.
  • The woman whose name I don’t know but whenever I see her on the street, like yesterday, waves a hello and a smile.
  • The dozen volunteers I saw raking and cleaning up a street with smiles on their faces, as part of community clean-up day.
  • The workers from the city who are clearing drains after the rain that caused havoc to the storm drains.

 

As you might guess, by now, there is no end in sight to the benefits I/we receive thanks to the effort of others, even if we fail to notice. In a general way we all know this but over time we forget; we take our lives for granted and pay more attention to what we are missing, what is going wrong and how others are failing us. Yet, when we stop to consider specifically how we are helped, we are reminded of how fortunate we are and how dependent we are on others every day.

The practice of Naikan adds back colour to what so easily fades into the background. It is such a simple practice in many ways yet offers untold practical benefits.

Gratitude is one of them, as is appreciation and kindness. Side effects worth having.