Commas

Little things are sometimes big things, or can be, depending on how we see them.

Take a ‘comma’ for instance. It’s so small you might miss it if you’re reading quickly. But, it’s important because as a punctuation mark, its intention is to provide a pause between parts of a sentence. It can also be used to separate items in a list or to mark the place of thousands in a large numeral, like 83,120.

My wife, Maureen, an English major in college, probably knows all of the eight other things a comma can do as it separates parts in a sentence. I confess this makes my eyes glaze over. Which is really okay, because some of my interests do the same thing to her. It seems fair and works for us.

Now back to the comma.

I was thinking about how we could use a comma effectively in our verbal and non-verbal communications.

Imagine that you’re engaged in a conversation with someone and things start to go off the rails. There’s a little heat and you can feel your temper amp up a bit and sense the other person beginning to do the same. Now, imagine being able to insert a comma, a pause between argumentative statements. Your small little comma can save the day and chill things down. All you have to do is stop for a moment and put the comma into action.

Ideally, if both you and the other person did this, you’d likely be able to reset the conversation and find some common ground to restart your dialogue. I realize that sometimes the other person won’t cooperate, but it might be worth using your comma, even just for yourself.

I wonder, what would happen if you disengaged and sat back and thought for a moment? What would they do? Might it be worth trying to see what impact it would have?

I sense the other person would be taken off guard and perhaps, settle down a little. After all, it’s hard to argue with someone who isn’t fighting back.

Or, how about when someone is naming all of the things they think you’re doing wrong. Imagine being able to pause the list until you can catch your breath. That little comma can give you enough time to shift your perspective or get out from under the weight being placed on you.

I wonder, what if each of us could raise our hand as a way of interjecting a non-verbal comma into challenging situations we face?

And, what if the other person had to stop for a moment and give us a chance to consider their words before responding? What might we gain from using the comma this way? Would it create some distance and offer us a greater perspective? Would it lessen the tension and give us a chance to step away?

My personal answer to all of these questions is, ‘yes’.

I see the comma as a small piece of salvation, similar to a reset button. I think it has numerous benefits, not the least of which is encouraging us to slow things down until we’re sure which direction to travel.

Perhaps we can’t influence others to act in ways we find acceptable or helpful, but we can influence our own behaviors and make our own conscious choices, ones that offer us a sense of calmness and peace.

Next time you sense the need for a comma, maybe you’ll want to give it a try and see what happens.

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Dream Big

One day I decided to go for a walk. What I thought of as a very long walk. My wife, Maureen, drove me to a town quite a distance from our house, kissed me and said goodbye. I had nothing with me, other than what I was wearing. Several hours and sixteen miles later I finally arrived home. I felt exhilarated that I could walk so far and happy for the up close and personal view I’d given myself.

Ordinarily I drove everywhere. I realized that I missed a lot by zooming by, with little time to glance at the scenery or connect with the little things along the way.

Sometimes my life feels this way too.

I’ve discovered that I am not the only one who likes to walk. My friend, Sketch (Mike Wurman), who created the magnificent cover design and interior illustrations for my book, talking with (god), decide he wanted to go for a walk too.

His version of a walk was to trek the entire Appalachian Trail, all 2,190 miles. He broke it up into four sections, rather than doing it all at one time, which doesn’t tarnish the accomplishment at all to me. I think it is a spectacular achievement.

He told me it was a wonderful experience, filled with so many events, emotions, new friends and worn out sneakers. I know it must have been challenging in many ways and I wonder about all of the opportunities there must have been to quit. But he didn’t. He finished, and stared out at the world from the top of Mt. Katahdin in central Maine, the journeys end. I wish I’d been there with him.

There are two other people I’d like to mention.

Before I do, I’d ask you to bring to mind some experience or project or dream you have that seems too incredible to contemplate. You know the ones I mean. The big, big, big ideas that you think would be major life events. I’ll give you a minute. Okay, keep your idea in mind.

A woman named Mildred Lisette Norman decide at age 45 that she wanted to make a change to her life. She wanted to dedicate it to a cause, one that rested deeply in her heart…peace. She set out and became the first woman to walk the entire Appalachian Trail. She liked walking so much that for the next 28 years she crisscrossed the united State seven times. She said in 1964 that she stopped counting the number of miles she walked at 20,000. Some have tried to estimate her actual total based on her trips and have suggested it is likely to be over 43,000 miles.

This astounds me, especially when you consider that all she brought with her was a comb, a folding toothbrush, a ball point pen and her message of peace. She relied entirely on the kindness of strangers. Can you imagine? No extra clothes, no food, no medicine, nothing to protect herself from the rain or the wind or snow. It boggles my mind.

Everywhere she went she spoke about peace. The inner kind and the outer kind. Part of her message was, “when enough of us find inner peace, our institutions will become peaceful and there will be no more occasion for war.”

And then there is Angela Maxwell, who on May 2, 2014 set out to walk around the world, ALONE. She sold or gave away most of her possessions and piled what was left onto a rolling cart that she either pushed or pulled for six and a half years and over 20,000 miles. She traveled to four continents and a handful of islands, building relationships and sharing herself with the world.

Angela says her goal was never about the pace of her travels, but rather the faces she met along the way. She seemed to know that it was important to slow down and pay attention and to give more than you receive along the way. She has dedicated a portion of the funds she receives from donors to support her organization, Her Future Coalition, which is devoted to creating a safe haven for survivors of gender violence and human trafficking.

Big dreams. I’d say so. But what makes them both real and spectacular to me is that they each had a purpose, a drive, and a desire to share with the world. I too want to share with the world.

And, I hope that all of your big dreams come true.

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Chaos Transformed by Love

I look at the world today and see so much chaos. Fear seems to have taken deep root and manifested intense feelings that surface in disturbing ways. The air around us seems filled with worry, heart break and anger.

What can be done to help heal all of this?

For me, I realize I can not be at peace if I harbor animosity in my heart for another person. If I fail to see that we are one human family and that we are all made from the same love, then I am lost.

When I see the cruel and violent actions of others, I have to be able to distinguish between who they ‘appear’ to me to be and who they truly ‘are’. They are more than the show of their outward actions and beliefs.

Before I cast a stone in their direction, I have to force myself to realize they are no more who they ‘appear’ to be than I am. Beneath our surfaces, we are all a part of the one. All made from the same source of love.

What I am saying goes far beyond ‘acceptance’. If I am to help in the worlds healing in any way, I have to be able to live from a center of love. I have to embrace all of my own weaknesses and my wholeness.

None of this is about condoning the behaviors or beliefs of others that arose from their fear and hatred. Rather, it is looking beyond and seeing that all of their actions come from their separation from the truth. The truth of who they really are, beloved of (god).

If I want to experience more feelings of separation and dissonance in my life, the surest way is to believe myself separate from them or superior to them. I benefit from realizing that I have no idea what their lives have been like and what stories they’ve been told and come to believe about themselves and the world.

If I want to help heal the world, I know that I have to start with myself. And so, I ask for a shift in my focus and that I seek a sense of clarity. I ask to have my heart opened fully, so that I can understand the difficult paths others have chosen. I have to suspend my judgment and I have to listen carefully. And, as best as I can, I have to see the world through their eyes.

My task is to see and feel with a loving undivided heart, knowing I am part of the wholeness and the holiness, and see all others as the same. If I live with this kind of heart, I can be in the world, but not of the world.

For there to be any peace inside of me, the depth of my love has to be deeper than the depth of another’s fear. I need to see beyond their misperceptions and find something within them I can hold inside of me. I have to breathe into stillness, letting go of my fear, until I find my loving heart and some part of the truth that can serve as a guide toward understanding and peace.

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More Forgiveness

Perhaps you’ve witnessed the same thing I have.

At times I’ve seen a wonderful relationship between two people come apart at the seams. The glue suddenly melts away, because of something said or left unsaid. Hearts become hardened and everyone loses something important. And always, there is a loss of the connection to love.

In 1990, I wrote a series of stories which became my first book. The title of the book is, Witness of the Heart, and it’s very precious to me. It’s the first experience I had where I felt (god) was writing with me. And, writing it was my way of speaking what felt like the truth to me and of saying what my heart yearned to tell others. Doing this released something that was wrapped up inside me. It was incredibly liberating.

Once the story was down on paper, everyone else could make up their own mind about its value. But, at least it was there.

Here is the story that came to me about the experience of forgiveness.

many things have a beginning

but most do not,

they just continue.

they include

some of what has been

and reach for what will be.

some things

we seem a part of

others

leave us outside

it is that way.

but,

we strive to always

be within

even at the center

and this causes each of us pain.

once,

we saw

how two lost sight of this.

they hadn’t meant for the fight to happen

but neither could they stop it

once it had begun.

and it hardened each of them

and they would not speak

nor look at one another.

and time did not heal them.

a season passed

and another

until it became more and

more difficult to remember

what had split them.

but this did not change

their resolve

instead their bitterness grew.

and another season

came and went

and to their shame

nothing changed.

and as it happens

some are strong

others weak

and one of them

slowed

and became sick.

the other saw

but could do nothing

for their hardness

kept them away.

and sliding from this life

the one who was sick

called for the one who was well.

and the well one came

and their eyes met

and as it has the power to do

sickness allowed a bridging.

and they overcame

their distance

and held each other’s hand.

while they sat together

the sick one formed

“I’m sorry”

on his lips

and the well one saw

and wept.

and in that moment

each realized what burdens

you carry

when you can not forgive.

and how it lessens you

and closes you

and keeps you from the

fullness of life.

It strikes me that there is an anatomy to forgiveness.

At first, a seed is planted. We let what is said or done enter some part of us that keeps track of all things. Our reaction may happen through a thought or feeling, but some part of us has taken it personally. A remark or action has challenged us or forced us outside our comfort zone and we feel the need to defend ourselves or to attack others.

I wonder, what if we didn’t take anything personally? What if we allowed everything to flow through us, not bothering to hold anything inside, especially those things which seem to hurt?

The Toltec wisdom tradition teaches this as one of its four cornerstones. They recognize the incredible merit to understanding that what is said or done to you by another, is solely about them. None of it is about you, unless of course, you choose to believe that it is.

I grant you that this is a skill that requires practice.

The question, as always is, is the practice worth it?

That’s a decision we each must make for ourselves. I hope what you choose creates peace and harmony in your life.

Information about Witness of the Heart is available by clicking on BOOKS and scrolling down.

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