Friday, March 21, 2014

Turning the Other Cheek...Sort Of

I think a corner has been turned.

After being piled-on and relentlessly lambasted for my political and personal views - yet again - by certain elements of the 'compassionate, caring, kind, tolerant left', I am pleased to discover that, rather than shrivel into a wrinkled, angry, vitriolic, tangle-fit of lashing out and name-calling, my response was one of calmness and, well, snickering.

Yes, snickering. Calm, barely audible, slight head-shaking snickering.

This is new.

The snickers erupted, I guess, because this time I clearly understood that these particular people appear to have no common sense or knowledge of history (or compassion, understanding, caring, or tolerance.) In a light-bulb moment I realized they'd revealed their hand, their M.O., their blindness, their frantic powerlessness. In spirit and behavior they have become everything they claim to oppose. At the very least they are far less civil and far less respectful than those they consider their 'evil' foes.

Rather than inducing fear, their condescending snarkiness struck me as humorous.

So, I snickered and reveled in the realization that - this time - I felt unscathed by their bullying. Once the good feelings had been thoroughly recognized and happily absorbed, I turned to pondering the logical consequences of such a specious, angry, and misguided group. This exercise left me sober and somewhat sad.

The pondering naturally led to prayer. Probably should have started there. Next time.

At any rate, this reaction sprouts a new hope that perhaps one day I will get it fully right, maybe one day I will be wise.

"The unexamined life is not worth living." ~~ Socrates

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Bandy-Legged Hero

Photo by Cassie Klusman *
 "Socrates had a favorable opinion of men and women because he saw clearly that they were capable of the highest moral heroism. Their outward appearance was of no lasting significance. Beauty faded with age, and clothes could do little for a man or woman to enhance or detract from what nature had provided. He had no shoes and precious little in the way of garments, and God had made him an ugly man."
"Socrates was imperturbable. He exuded serenity. There were many things he deplored, but nothing left him depressed. If he was angry, he never showed it - except, in contrast to most people, who raise their voices in anger, he lowered his, and spoke quietly. To those who knew Socrates, he was impossible to dislike and difficult not to love." ~~ Paul Johnson, Socrates
In the light of today's perception of beauty equating happiness, Socrates seems a paradox. Here was a bandy-legged, ugly man with enormous lips, a flat, spreading nose, giant popping eyes, who was also bearded and hairy, yet, serene, curious, well-thought of, instructive, a seeker of personal virtue, wisdom, and understanding. He inspired and actually changed the world! A philosophical genius and a hero. His physical ugliness bothered him not. He light-heartedly joked about it. He fully grasped where lies the wealth of men and women. He was happy.

While a body can be spruced up a bit, outward beauty either is or isn't. It's a chance of birth. We can't change that no matter how much dye we use, or make-up, hair products, fashion sense, jewelry, or even Botox. Let me repeat that, outward beauty either is or isn't, we have it or we don't. It'd be helpful if we could all kindly accept that and move on. Physical beauty isn't a prize, it isn't a blessing. "She is blessed with good looks!" No, beauty just is or isn't. We have physical beauty or we don't. Beauty isn't 'good' nor homeliness or ugliness 'bad'. Bodily beauty - or lack thereof - isn't a moral condition. It just is.

Personal treasure lies in the mind, the spirit, the heart, the behavior, the levels of virtue, wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Here is true beauty, attainable for all. Integrity and depth can be altered for better or worse all our lives long. Remarkable and encouraging. To seek truth by engaging in life in its simplest and most complicated forms is a choice.

So, why is it that we 21st Century Citizens feel the need to continually - manically - renovate our bodies - starving, punishing, waxing, plucking, shaving, dying, styling, manicuring, pedicuring, attiring, piercing, inking, perfuming, bedazzling, girdling, lifting, separating, deforming, and otherwise torturing them - in order to conform to a mysteriously ordered idea of beauty? Why, indeed, especially when the true worth of a man, woman, or child is within the attitude, the level of goodness, depth, and desire to grow in grace and knowledge?

Apparently modern man fails to understand where value lies. Tragedy this. Utter failure.

Obsessive beauty seeking seems to have created more insecurity and judgment than ever before. Unnecessarily so. Within each of us - whether outwardly ugly or beautiful or somewhere in between - lies the raw material to grow a serene, curious, relevant, helpful, inspirational, wise, understanding, caring, joyful person.

Please, don't misunderstand. I'm not opposed to bathing or presenting ourselves at our natural best. Of course not. It's a wonderful thing to brighten our homes and communities with loveliness for loveliness sake. Robust health boosts the enjoyment of life and cleanliness is still next to godliness. Fashion is fun. Tweaking what God has given us can tidy up the garden of our appearance. I don't oppose these things, I applaud them. The balance is just off, that's all. Too much time and emphasis on clothes, make-up, weight, hair, teeth, skin tone, body shape, and dress size leaves little room for absorbing the hows and whys of an integrated life.

This absorption requires solitude, a quiet mind, a contented yet curious heart, focus. With all that life requires of us there really isn't time for vanity or self-condemnation based on physical appearance. One thing is required, and it's not more waxing, excessive closet-busting shopping trips, long hours flipping through Pinterest for hair style photos and make-up secrets, or a daily, time-slurping primping in front of a bedroom mirror. Grooming, yes. Preoccupation, no.

Single-mindedly stopping up our ears liberates us from our culture's siren call to celebrate the superficial while demanding we neglect life's purpose. In liberty is the opportunity for prolific personal growth accompanied by the hope of discovering what it means to truly be a beautiful person.

Like Socrates.

* Cassie took this photo of the bust of Socrates in Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Friday, February 14, 2014

C'est Magnifique

Happy Valentine's Day to All Who Believe in Pure Love!

Before I unwrapped and re-wrapped the tiny Tiffany Blue box for photographing, the bow was tied much prettier. 

Attention to detail, the hallmark of excellence.

The way to a woman's heart is through Tiffany & Co.

I wore it all day long.

Felt extra special.

I have the Best Husband Ever!

(I could get used to this. Wink.)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Failing Better

"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." ~~ Samuel Beckett, Irish playwright and poet.
Beckett's notion here, about failing better, warms my heart, gives me hope.

It's a new perspective in a much too competitive world.

Somehow in my modern-day, American-trained mind, when I do fail better it doesn't seem to count since I haven't actually won. But what is winning anyway? Can't failing better be considered winning? I think it can since winning is a process, not the actual momentary climax.

When I think of failing better I feel energized rather than demoralized. I see progress. I see steps being taken, lessons being learned, accomplishment in the little objectives that lead to the larger goal. Suddenly, the goal doesn't seem quite so important because I realize that it's the consistency of trying, understanding, and getting better at a thing that really matters.

The idea of accomplishment is rather elusive for in reality it is effort that propels me to what is considered success. Success itself seems to be the only concept valued. But actual accomplishment is merely a measuring stick, a plateau, a resting point. Its attainment creates, at least for me, the incentive to tackle something new, to begin the trying and failing once again in order to fail better to the point of success once again.

In the final analysis, it seems to me that trying, failing, and failing better are more the stuff of life than succeeding. Failure isn't bad, it isn't wrong, it isn't, well, failure, if you follow my drift. It's educational for those who allow themselves to be trained by it. And it is the path one must undertake in order to achieve a desired result.

Keep trying. Recognize failure and better failure as forward momentum gained. Realize that effort, consistently performed, over time, will always lead one to some sort of understanding and perhaps the achievement of a goal.

Or even a lovely dream.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Etiquette: A Defining Mark

"In the midst of the war, some French soldiers and some non-French of the Allied forces were receiving their rations in a village back of the lines. The non-French fighters belonged to an Army that supplied rations plentifully. They grabbed their allotments and stood about while hastily eating, uninterrupted by conversation or other concern. The French soldiers took their very meager portions of food, improvised a kind of table on the top of a flat rock, and having laid out the rations, including the small quantity of wine that formed part of the repast, sat down in comfort and began their meal amid a chatter of talk. One of the non-French soldiers, all of whom had finished their large supply of food before the French had begun eating, asked sardonically: 'Why do you fellows make such a lot of fuss over the little bit of grub they give you to eat?' The Frenchman replied: 'Well, we are making war for civilization, are we not? Very well, we are. Therefore, we eat in a civilized way."' ~~ excerpted from Richard Duffy's Introduction to Emily Post's Etiquette, written in 1922

"Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use." ~~ Emily Post

As society's behavior becomes increasingly crass, a sort of aching throbs in the hearts of a few. Attached to the ache is a question. "Cannot we rise above self-absorption, vulgarity, and utility?" An affirmative answer confidently sings within such pure hearts. Yes. Yes, each one can choose to recall to life within himself the ancient civilities which set humanity on its course toward refinement. 

Perhaps, more than missing courtesy, deference, and certain dignity is the idea that without a common respect, life tends to be rather dispiriting. 
For everyone.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Creative Watching

In the perfume section of Macy's on Tuesday evening, my daughter and I witnessed one of those quiet, very human moments.

Middle-aged, tall, husky and clean-shaven with bushy brown hair sticking out from underneath a billed cap, his body enveloped in a black track suit with matching shoes, a long-striding man calmly entered the department store from the lively mall. Located on the fringe, the cologne selection's enticing aromas lured nearby shoppers, including the mall guy.

Perusing scents for men, this chap chose a bottle, sniffed, uncapped, then splashed a bit of the amber contents into his beefy hands. He began to, with gentlemanly form, quickly pat the liquid onto his face and his neck, then he rubbed his hands together smoothing the remaining cologne away.

I watched with delight! He seemed so confident I am sure he was a frequent snatcher of Macy's eau de toilette. He emitted an air of sophistication, somehow, under those baggy clothes.

Off he strolled, giraffing his neck and head as if looking for a particular someone, perhaps her.

If so, lucky lady. Her casually-dressed fellow samples only the best.

How fun to imagine many endings to the story all beginning with that one curious moment!

Creative watching.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

That Flipping Attitude

Stewing on frowny thoughts saps energy and repels sweet interactions. Ugly.

What is it psychologists call the White Bear effect? You know, "Don't think about the white bear," then all you do is think about the white bear. It's a form of thought suppression and it doesn't work. The more you think about not thinking about something such as chocolate the more chocolate you'll actually eat.

Hmm. That's no good.

If thoughts lead to attitudes, and attitudes lead to choices, and choices lead to actions then does it make sense that focusing on a good attitude might turn a mindset around better than trying to suppress a bad attitude? Drink in the sweet-scented flower garden and you'll probably forget about the white bear.

This is how I snap myself out of frowny moments. I notice beauty and goodness.

I've found that when I invite loveliness into my mind, when I look for beauty, listen for it, and notice it I find myself making positive choices. And smiling more. My shoulders relax, my problems shrink to their actual sizes, my confidence rises along with a certain joy.

For example, some mornings, for reasons unknown to me, my mood upon awakening is negative, really looking-for-a-fight tense. I feel crabby, irritable, even angry. It's unpleasant. Really. Getting to the guts of this bad attitude requires a scanning of my thoughts. To what can I attribute this nastiness?

Unsurprisingly, the darkness is usually due to, well, absolutely no good reason, maybe a nightmare, maybe a violent or negative film watched before bed, or a hostile chapter consumed from a book, or, perhaps as for Scrooge, it could simply be a bit of undigested beef.

Once I realize that I'm not really angry at anyone, nor do I have a reason to be ill content, my attitude begins to flip from tense to relaxed. Just like that. This has taken some practice, you understand. A lot of practice. That flipping results not from avoiding the white bear but instead from realizing the beauty of my wiggling toes at the end of rested legs, the softness of my skin, the sun streaming in through the window or the rain pelting it, the smell of clean sheets or freshly washed hair, the touch of soft carpet under my feet, or the knowledge that the day holds promise for whatever reason.

Plentiful beauty exists around each one of us at any given moment. Sometimes beauty consists in the realization that my heart is beating, my lungs are breathing, and I have good memories of inspiring places and people I have known in the course of all this beating and breathing. Sometimes beauty is a startling foggy-shadowed twilight, sometimes the sounds of family members moving about, sometimes the voices of school children at the bus stop outside my picket fence. Sometimes it's the scent of tea and crumpets - my daughter really likes to make these British treats - sometimes it's a song lilting in my mind, or the refreshment derived from a cool drink of water. Oftentimes the beauty projects from the artwork in my home enticing me to pause and feel happiness, or the sunlight glistening off my little perfume bottles, or off of my husband's reddish golden hair. Beauty in the smile of James the local deli owner, Karen the grocery store checker, and Loren from down the street.

Sometimes this beauty is simply in realizing that I'm a child of God and forever will be. How I love him! His goodness is beautiful even when he is disciplining me because I know from experience that good will come of it. It always has. He is the one who has taught me about beauty in attitude, in transforming my mind through my thinking.

Beauty offers sweet, uplifting rest any time. Beauty takes our thoughts by the hand and leads us to life-affirming choices and actions, which ripple out to others creating a little space of hopeful connection in a world that suffers too often from frowniness.
"Love of Beauty is Taste. The creation of Beauty is Art." ~~ Ralph Waldo Emerson