Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Sunrise over Price Lake, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
My wife Karen and I were introduced to the ancient practice of mindful meditation years ago. Frankly, it’s a wonderful practice of calming your mind to achieve a peaceful and cleansing goal of reducing the daily stress of life. Experiencing peace doesn’t mean that our lives are always joyful. It implies that we have found the path to calming the mind in the midst of a normal hectic life. One of the first teachings we discovered was to focus on the present moment by surrounding our senses with a calming environment such as aroma therapy candles, pleasant music or silence, a gentle breeze on the exposed skin, and the beauty of a magnificent landscape. We learned that mindful meditation can be practiced almost anywhere if we focus on our favorite “go-to” quiet place in our mind. We found peace and relaxation on vacation trips out into the serene beauty of nature.
Quietly standing next to the mirrored surface of a Blue Ridge Mountain lake surrounded by the reflections of colorful autumn leaves has become my latest quiet place of nirvana. As I stood at the waters’ edge, I could subconsciously hear the soothing sound of water cascading over the spillway in the distance. My previous quiet place was imprinted in my mind’s eye on an overcast morning in Israel on the Sea of Galilee. As our wooden boat motored out to the center of the water our captain cut off the engines and instructed everyone to remain silent as we simply drifted in this sacred place. A light squall slowly sprinkled rain drops around the boat and the accompanying breezes sent them gently descending on my face. My first quiet place remains vivid in my mind as Karen and I hiked into Maroon Bells National Park outside Aspen, Colorado. We emerged from under the aspen trees and into view of two magnificent Rocky Mountain peaks encompassing a still lake surrounded by the aspens and a few beaver dams. A gentle breeze rustled the leaves as they shimmered in the sunlight. All of these memories occurred in the early morning light near the calm waters of expansive mirrored bodies of water.
Deepak Chopra has noted that “Meditation is a way of entering into the quiet in the mind that is buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day”. The key to quieting the left-brain ego chatter which organizes our outside lives and dominates our thoughts is to calmly go within the right brain as an observer and discover our true soul that transcends this mortal life. We enter that present moment quiet place by simply becoming aware of our breath of life. I recently ran across a play on words related to mindfulness breathing that simply encourages us to “Inhale love, exhale gratitude”. When we focus on loving others and loving God in our lives and returning our gratitude back into the world, we experience the true joy of life. And we become more aware that we are all interconnected to the true power of the universe who reminds us in the Psalms to “Be still and know that I am God”.
Thursday, October 20, 2016
Scenic Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, NC
Natural Color Filters, Price Lake, NC
We human beings are continually evolving and those beings that adapt and reproduce will pass along the traits that have enabled their survival. Endless spirals of DNA molecules contain the elaborate and awe-inspiring language of God himself in every creature that has been created in his image. I’m intuitively certain that one of those critical traits is the innate ability to sense the changing of the seasons and make the appropriate preparations in time to survive the next one. The season of Fall seems to trigger deeply known warnings that the cold and desolate season of Winter is imminent.
The October sky is pattered by high flying wispy circus clouds occasionally highlighted in the late afternoon by colorful fire rainbows as the setting sun reflects their embedded ice crystals. The night air turns cooler and begins to restrict the flow of life-giving nutrients that sustains all living plants and trees. Green chlorophyll recedes from the tree leaves revealing their true colors of red, yellow and orange at the extreme tips. The subtle transition isn’t missed by the human beings that scurry beneath the wide-ranging tree top canopies of colorful leaves. The trees relish the opportunity to show off their new colorful garments to the wondering creatures below.
The air temperatures at the highest altitudes are the first to grow colder, so they become the “canary in the coal mine” to sound a quiet alarm that the leaf shackles of the mother trees will soon be broken. Mankind constructed paved pathways among the colorful trees long ago to enable travel in the high-country mountains. Now the multi-colors that were painted with a broad brush across these hills and mountain peaks are in full splendor. The embedded DNA of the human survivors attracts them to the colors like a moth to fire light. They begin to drive, ride and hike along the winding paths under the filtered sunlight in the woodland forests as if they were experiencing a walk through one of the grand stained glass cathedrals of Europe. But these places of spiritual worship are not man made; rather they are fashioned every year by the loving hand of a God that has never stopped creating.
Saturday, October 15, 2016
Lost Everything, Chicago, IL
Recent technical developments in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans of our human brains have opened up all sorts of fascinating insights into our human behavior. A recent study in the AARP Bulletin revealed that “more than half of all donations to charity are made by those over sixty. And it’s not just because those people have more money”. The article noted a study at the University of Oregon of volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 67 where they were shown money going either to charity or to themselves while being monitored with an MRI.
MRI scans have showed that both pure monetary rewards and charitable donations activate the primitive mesolimbic reward pathway of our brain. However, when volunteers generously placed the interests of others before their own by making charitable donations, the subgenual cortex/septal region was also activated. This area is intimately related to social attachment and bonding. The experiment suggested that selfless altruism, caring about the welfare of other people and acting to help them, was basically hardwired in the brain and pleasurable. It is usually contrasted with egoism, which is defined as acting to the benefit of one's self.
Altruism is central to the teachings of Jesus found in scriptures such as the Sermon on the Mount. Love and compassion are components of all forms of Buddhism and are focused on all beings equally: love is the wish that all beings be happy, and compassion is the wish that all beings be free from suffering.
The AARP study found that the brain’s reward areas tended to become more active in volunteers over 45 when they saw money go to charity. It became more active when the money went to themselves in the younger volunteers. The article concluded that “your odds of experiencing suffering and others’ suffering goes up the longer that you’re around. As a result, you become more benevolent, more altruistic as you get older.”
And that’s a good thing, as folks over sixty have hopefully had a lifetime to earn, save and invest and they’re now in a position to transition from lives of success to lives of significance. This fourth period of life enables reflection and experience to give back and help those that are now in struggling stages that they quite possibly emerged from as they themselves sailed on the storms of life.
Friday, October 7, 2016
City at Night, Chicago, IL
There’s an ancient story in the Old Testament about a small group camped at night that was outnumbered by their pursuers. The enemy approached the camp but then retreated. When the soldiers interrogated one of the enemy men later, he stated that they had observed all the armed soldiers guarding the camp. But the others knew that they had set no guard. There were spiritual beings guaranteeing their safeguard that night.
I can recall at least three occasions when it could be possible that I had such a night watch. The first occurred in New York City on a cold and drizzly night at Times Square before the city finally restored the area. This was my first trip to the city and I was with another business associate having an authentic Italian dinner with one of our sales managers. As we departed the restaurant I mentioned that I had never walked the streets of New York and our hotel was only a few blocks away. So the two of us began walking into the dark misty night. As we passed a sheltered doorway, we glanced over our shoulder and noticed that two men had suddenly began walking behind us. We stepped up our pace while considering the possibility of fight or flight. Just then two NY policemen walked around the corner towards us and the two men miraculously evaporated into the foggy night. The policemen mentioned that the area was a bit dicey for a night’s walk so we hailed a yellow cab.
I was on a consulting assignment in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on another occasion and staying at a hotel that shared a common plaza with a casino. After finishing a late dinner, I decided to walk over to the casino to check out the action. I didn’t place any bets but simply meandered around the casino floor for a while and took in the smoky atmosphere. Then I slowly made my way outside and started to walk across the dark plaza. Something nudged me to glance over my shoulder into the darkness. I noticed a dark figure had again suddenly fallen into lock step not far behind me. I didn’t waste any time considering my options and ran into the hotel's side door.
Another consulting assignment found me in McAllen, Texas after spending a long day crossing the border at Hidalgo in and out of Reynosa, Mexico. I stopped for another late dinner and decided to park in a corner spot of a Barnes and Noble Bookstore to buy some late night reading. I browsed the bookstore and made my selection, not knowing that I was once again being observed. I then exited the building as night descended and walked to my rental car across the parking lot. As I opened the car door and stepped inside, I glanced over my left shoulder and noticed a dark figure extending his arm. I shut the door quickly and hit the door lock as he grabbed the door handle! The stranger knocked on my window and gestured for me to roll down the window. I started the car and cracked the window as he asked me for a ride to some location just a block away. Both his actions and comment raised plenty of red flags so I dropped the transmission into gear and drove away.
I’ve often wondered how I managed to escape those close encounter night walks without being held up or experiencing a more serious fate. In each instance I was prompted to glance over my shoulder just in time to see the danger walking behind me. The world is full of good and well-meaning people, but nevertheless we shouldn’t be naive about the presence of some who would do us harm. Some street smarts are requisite in addition to perhaps having the company of a night watch along the way.
Love Light, Jamestown, NC
Jesus summed up the 600 commandments and laws of the Jewish leaders in his time quite succinctly; “Love your neighbor and love God.” As our society has become more diverse than ever, this mantra is more relevant today than ever before. Non-Biblical phrases like “Love the sinner, hate the sin” are more hurtful than helpful. And that’s not what Jesus said. Using a phrase like this negatively affects the way we interact with anyone regarding any implied behavior. We are all children of a loving God.
Jesus knows the hearts of human beings. When we’re in a majority, no matter how large or small the pool we’re swimming in, we appear to have a tendency to build up our own fragile self-worth at the expense of a minority. There doesn’t seem to be a need for any particular qualifying attributes of either. Which is quite probably why he keeps it simple and teaches that it’s not our call to judge but only to love one another.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Lone Donut, Jamestown UMC, NC
I operate the PowerPoint presentation for our church contempory service on the first Sunday of each month so the regular operator can volunteer for another assignment each month. Seated at an elevated position at the back of the service gives me a unique perspective on the folks that attend. The service attracts a lot of young families with children which is great. There is always a hospitality table at the back which includes coffee for the adults and lemonade with donut holes for the kids and an occasional adult as well.
After the service had gotten underway this morning I noticed two young girls slipping in the back door. They were holding onto their youth Bibles and made a bee line direct to the basket of donut holes in focused anticipation. The first girl reached into the basket to retrieve her prize while the second arrived just in time to discover that there were none left. I glanced over to curiously see how they would both react. The girl with the prized lone donut hole pondered the conundrum for just a moment and then warmed my heart when she offered it to her empty-handed friend. I could observe that she too was in a quandary about eating the only donut hole left in the basket.
I fully expected them to possibly handle the issue like wise King Solomon when two women came to him demanding the same baby. He instructed them to split the prize in half and share which prompted the true mother to offer the baby to the imposter. But with childlike grace, the girls agreed to return the lonesome donut hole back into the basket. They then poured two glasses of lemonade and toasted one another for their selfless decision. After they were seated, the mother of one of the girls entered and plucked the lone donut hole from the basket without realizing her own daughter had left it for her. She then proceeded to join the girls with a nice hug for both of them.
You know, I’ve often wondered how much grief the human population can present to God before he simply says, “OK, that’s enough!” when he observes how all we adults are managing His creation. But then our only salvation has to be when he watches our children and how they take care of one another and he wonders to the Trinity, “Well, let’s wait just a little while longer. Maybe this is the generation that will get it right.”