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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual journey’

Celebrate Life out of Joy and Gratitude!

Greetings to all my family, students and friends.  Many of you have been asking “what happened to the stationarypilgrim?”  I did disappear from the blogosphere for several days but I am ready to return to our pilgrimage journey.  

I have a job/profession, as a Psychology professor, that involves a great deal of thinking, pondering and speaking.  I strive to “bring together” somewhat abstract ideas with everyday activities, observations and behaviors.  I am known as a “man of many word and stories” and a good teacher, at least that’s what the students say on their evals of me!  I am seldom without some topic to speak about, some insight to share, some observation to make!  However, there are times that I do fall silent! 

I have learned over the years as a teacher, therapist and spiritual seeker that there are times when one’s words and ideas stop flowing or become murky and chaotic.  This often signals the coming of a serious life choice and/or the arrival of a significant insight.  I have been experiencing one of these periods!  

I have also learned that the best thing for me to do is to not force the words, but to just quiet myself and listen!   I listen to the voice from within me, and those from outside (e.g., a sermon, a partner, friends and students, sacred scriptures, secular philosophy, world events) and of course all forms of the voice of nature.  

I am preparing right now to take a hike along a beautiful river on a sunny Spring day, then I will attend church and enjoy the sharing of fellowship before joining a long time friend for lunch and an always stimulating discussion.  Later this evening I will climb back on the bike and share with you more about this period of silence.  Again thank you to all my fellow pilgrims for your concern and  encouragement.  I will leave you with a poem/musing I wrote this morning as I read the paper and fed my caffeine habit at a local eatery! 

Listen: There is always something to hear!

One to Go 

  

Like a parade of classic cars 

they creep past 

wearing gray trim 

   – like me 

thin top covering 

   – like me 

they savor their coffee 

   – like me 

they ponder serious issues 

   – like me 

they seek Sunday morning wisdom 

   – like me 

they open their Bibles 

   the youngest among them 

      leads the prayer 

I close my paper 

   and my notes 

Called to worship 

    by the sun 

        the rushing river 

           the bird calls 

This classic prefers 

    a path less travelled 

        at a creeping pace 

Fifteen for coffee 

   one to go! 

**** 

A new day with promises, opportunities and joys!

Have a wonderful day… embrace, savor and share it with those you meet!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Cumulative Days Riding:  165                         Cumulative Days Blogging: 150

Today’s Mileage: 5                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1112

As I rode the bike this evening my thoughts drifted to yesterday’s visit to a Christian Easter Day service.  The service was joyful with the reading of scripture and singing, directed by my partner Susan.  The service brought back memories of my childhood and significant church holidays.  The one thing I missed was the sight of children running around the lawn collecting colored eggs!

While I enjoyed the service I also made it a point to take a walk around the church campus before and after the service.  It was a particularly beautiful day and as always nature bombarded me with distractions.  I have decided to share with my readers several poems and musings I wrote before and after the service.

Across the Street

Church lawn:

   Pristine green

   Parallel mower marks

   Edged pathway

   Leads to a

   Tall white building

   Stark wooden cross

   Bares white cloth drapery

   Easter Lilies

   In plastic pails

   Circle the base

       Signs of a Church’s belief in resurrection!

 Across the Street

 Empty house:

   Unkempt lawn

   Mats of dark green clover

   Points of purple and yellow

   Dandelions and wild violets

   Scattered about

   Flowering dogwood

   Twisted wooden fingers

   Bearing pink jewels

   Majestic white irises

   Circle the base

       Signs of Nature’s promise of renewal!

****

Tree Mysticism!

In the Shadow of Giants

 Ancient oaks

Tower overhead

Midriff bulge

Extends its base

Onto the sidewalk

Like a living

Volcanic flow

What was two

Had become one

An extra

Roll of bark

Marks their seam

They are not alone

A vine

With a girth

Similar to my own

Sends tentacles

Like heavily laden

Fire hoses skyward

Braiding with branches

And twin trunks

A small flowering dogwood

At their base

Cannot compete

For size and age

It counters

With its beauty

Living in the shadow of giants

 ****

Natures Gifts!

Holiday Treats

 Forty steps

Along the sidewalk

From the back

Of the church

Before the Easter  

Sunday service

I found green grass

Colorful blossom gifts

On the lawn

All that was missing

Was a basket

And a chocolate bunny

 ****

Gaia!

What was…

 My favorite part

Of the Easter

Church experience

Standing at the base

Of a majestic

Magnolia tree

In the sun

Surrounded by

Spring bird calls

I admired the

Tree’s shade and

Structure

It must have been

Wondrous being a child

Around these trees

They were designed

For climbing and

Hiding in the branches

 ****

Patterns, cycles, beauty!

I hope that you enjoyed my words and caught glimpses of the beauty I find in nature!  My experience yesterday reminded me of the fact that “one size does not fit all.”  While the church was filled with people finding meaning in their sacred scripture and the story of a risen savior, there are others, myself included, who find meaning and guidance in the “voices of nature.”  I do not believe that one path/approach has more “truth or validity” than the other, they represent preferences based on our experiences and history.

After a recent posting concerning the Catholic Church one reader made the comment: “Sorry to hear that you are a former Catholic. Only Catholics that don’t know their faith leave because if you truly knew the faith of your birth you would see that there is no other faith to move to. The Catholic Church is the Church that Jesus founded upon Peter and it has lasted the last 2,000 years. Come home!”

Nature Saints?

I respect this reader’s right to his opinion and recognize his exclusionary beliefs about the Catholic Church.  However, I have found my path and like many others “my home” is within the realm of nature, its symbolism, its cycles, and its beauty!

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Pilgrimage Statistics

Consecutive Days Riding:  155                            Consecutive Days Blogging: 139

 Today’s Mileage: 4                                              Total Trip Mileage: 1061

As I ride the bike today I want to note that we will be visiting the first of several pilgrimage sites in the St. Augustine Florida area tomorrow.  These include some of the earliest European fortifications in the New World, the Greek “Plymouth Rock” and a Catholic shrine. 

Peace and Prosperity for all on Planet Earth

I always start my morning by checking for blog comment s and facebook messages.   I often find a series of requests and offers to join different groups and causes.  I think one of the most significant aspects of this new social media is that it allows us to connect with a diverse group of people who we otherwise would have no possibility of meeting.  I find it intriguing and exciting as I get messages from fellow spiritual pilgrims from around the world.  One recent morning I had messages from an artist in Australia, a young man from Tunisian, a “healer” from Estonia, and was conducting an IM conversation with a college student from India. 

At times like this I wish I were bilingual, as I have received messages in Chinese, Hebrew, Arabic, Danish and Russian.  I could not understand their statements, but enjoyed the beautiful photos attached to the messages.  Artwork, like nature, speaks a universal language.  In our world community it is this growing connectedness of like minded, or at least open minded individuals which offers the most promise to finding solutions to the big problems that we all face as inhabitants of a shrinking world.  Besides reaching out to individuals, I have joined a number of groups. I find this to be an invaluable way to connect with others who share common interests.  I conducted a quick review this morning of the groups I have joined.  They represent a somewhat diverse range of interests, although most are of a pluralist, spiritual nature committed to a growing worldwide interconnectedness.  Many of them would fall under the heading of New Thought, Naturalistic or Eastern Thought.  Several focus on healing and health and often combine artistic images that promote and convey the messages of balance and creativity.  Of course there are several associated with Unitarian Universalism, my current religious affiliation.

No Seaparation

This collection of groups would not be a surprise to my family, friends and students who have heard me readily express my spiritual and political views.  There is one thing you won’t find in this collection of groups.  You will not find organizations that take a narrow perspective, such as condemning Israel or Palestine while not acknowledging the joint responsibilities, or singling out a particular religion for criticism, such as Islam.  You won’t find groups that argue for a continuation of the status quo, or that proclaim  “Americanism” as God’s gift to the world. 

Of course I would not seek out such groups and anyone who knows me would not invite me to join such a group.  It is for this reason that I was surprised and a little shocked when I found an invitation to join a group entitled “Let’s Build a Church in Pakistan.”  The group boasts over 50,000 members.  As best I can tell the group is based in England and has postings that are sprinkled with obscenities.  It is an “in your face, poke in the eye” attempt to throw fuel on the anti-Islamic sentiments.  It attempts to stoke the dichotomous “we are right and you are wrong” flames of anger and hatred. 

People Who Want Peace

As a pluralist I believe that all people should have a right to build churches, temples, mosques and stone circles to practice their faith.  I know this flies in the face of the rules in several countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia) where exclusionary regimes place severe restriction on such rights.  I do not believe these regimes are correct. 

I am proud of the US where people are free to build their houses of worship and practice their faith as they choose.  But even in the USA these choices are at times confronted by narrow minded exclusionary forces.  On my pilgrimage journey I have come across Hindu and Jain temples that were blocked by local governments from building in their communities, forcing them to relocate.  This is not right! 

Unitarian Universalism

I will join any group that embraces a goal of a world where every citizen has a right to worship.  But before anyone points fingers at other countries they should first look in their own back yard.  I am choosy about the groups I join.  I review them to make sure they fit with my values and standards.  I do not know who sent me this request, they obviously do not know me.  They do not share my desire for world peace, my desire for a connected world community. I embrace everyone on my friends list with love, compassion, concern and respect.  Please join me in this effort!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 153                                         Days Blogged: 137 

New Mileage: 4                                                          Total Trip Mileage: 1053

A Protective Platinum Rule

As I ride the bike this afternoon I would like to respond to several comments on yesterday “Platinum Rule” topic.  I agree with one viewer who pointed out that the rule, which takes into account what the receiver actually desires, leaves out the important fact that what people want is not always good for them.  In some cases people will do downright destructive things if we give them what they want.  I have many times sat with depressed individuals who wanted nothing more than to kill themselves.  Sorry I wasn’t letting it happen on my watch! 

Clearly some judgment needs to be made about the appropriateness of the “assistance” before it is given!  However, I think the critical point is that in many cases when the Golden Rule is used,  little or no effort is made to first ascertain what the receiver wants and desires.  More often it seems to me that the giver takes the easier route of assuming they “know best” and act accordingly.  This concern was part of what fueled an earlier blog where I was critical of a Christian group who wanted to send solar powered audio bibles to Haiti following the disastrous earth quake.  Did they first ask the Haitian people to choose between audio bibles or tents, audio bibles or water?  In general, could a lack of a consideration of the receiver’s needs, help to explain why we sometimes find our “gracious offers” accepted in a seemingly ungrateful manner?  

Testing the Waters!

While it is my experience that listening and considering others needs takes more time and effort,  I believe it is worth the expense!   Taking the easier “we just assume we know what they want or need” approach has not lead to a decrease in violence and suffering on our planet.  We have got to do something different.  Why not trade up to a higher grade rule?

What does this have to do with the title of today’s blog?  Nothing, because the title speaks to a newspaper article and an internet story I wanted to briefly share.  Earlier this month Nicholas Kristof, a writer for the New York Times wrote an opinion piece in the Times entitled: World Aid: Evangelicals Blaze the Path.  He argues that evangelicals have cast off many of the old negative stereotypes and become “the new internationalists, pushing successfully for new American programs against AIDS and malaria and doing superb work on issues from human trafficking in India to mass rape in the Congo.” 

Showing our Support!

He notes that the organization “World Vision” has 40,000 staff members in over 100 different countries and that it has banned the use of aid to lure anyone into a religious conversion.  I was relieved and impressed to read this as I have often feared that such aid can and is used to coerce needy people to “find the Lord” in order to receive aid.  It sounds like the Platinum Rule may already be in place within some organizations.  Let me quote Mr. Kristof’s final paragraph as I believe it contains an important message for all of us. “If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity such as illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.”

Support the message!

The second item I want to briefly comment on is a series of recent announcements where top Muslim clerics have denounced the terror attacks directed against the United States and its allies.  I feel that it is important to highlight these developments as I still find far too many people believing that “all Muslims” want to kill us and that Islam is a dangerous faith.  One story was entitled: “Top Muslim Clerics Issue a Fatwa Denouncing Terror Attacks.”  A Fatwa is an important religious edict which states an authoritative opinion on a religious matter.   This edict called those terrorists who attacked the U.S. and Canada “evil” and was signed by some twenty Muslim Imams in Canada.  I’ve read of similar Fatwas issued by important Imams in Europe and the Middle East.  I applaud these efforts and believe that we non-Muslims should do everything in our power to support and strengthen the positions of these moderate Islamic religious leaders.  Ultimately terrorism will be defeated, or at least beaten back and minimized, only if the larger silent moderate masses of Muslim stand up and reclaim the mantle of their faith from the radical CULT which spreads hatred and destruction in their name. 

I would like to again applaud both the evangelical World Vision organization and these courageous Imams.  In both cases we are seeing a movement from the moderate center of Christianity and Islam to reclaim the mantle of their respective faith from radical Cults and/or fundamentalists.  All of us who claim other faiths or no faith at all should do everything we can to support these movements as the safety and peace of the world likely depends upon their success!

 
 
 

When will it end?

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 150                                      Days Blogged: 134 

New Mileage: 6                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1042

As I ride the bike today I am thinking about spiritual inspiration and the situations that remind us of the spiritual aspects of our lives.  This topic was inspired by a newspaper article and an internet story. 

Ganesha

The article noted that the Shroud of Turin will soon be put on display and that people can reserve a spot in line for a 3-5 min viewing of this sacred relic.  A million people have already signed up for this pilgrimage. The internet story: “Ganesha gets chopped; Hindus are furious” came from an Indonesian city.  It was reported that Hindus were making a pilgrimage to a site where the image of Ganesha was observed in the bark of a tree, many of them were leaving flowers and incense.  The outrage was about the fact that a low level official of the city cut down and destroyed the tree.

In the case of the Shroud we have a pilgrimage to a site to view a sacred relic.  In the second story we have a pilgrimage to observe what is sometimes labeled as Simulacra. This is defined as a sighting of an image with spiritual or religious themes, usually religiously notable people or spiritual symbols in everyday objects or phenomena of the natural world.  These phenomena have received considerable attention since the advent of the Internet.  Recently on E-Bay, someone sold of a piece of toast bearing the Virgin Mary’s likeness for $28,000!

A relic is defined as an object or a personal item of religious significance, carefully preserved and venerated as a tangible memorial.  Relics play an important role in many but not all of the world’s religions. According to the Catholic Church, relics can be classified into three groups.  First-Class Relics are items directly associated with the events of Christ’s life (manger, cross, etc.), or the physical remains of a saint (a bone, a hair, a limb, etc.). Traditionally, a martyr’s relics are often more prized than the relics of other saints.  Second-Class Relics are items that a saint wore (a shirt, a glove, etc.) Also included is an item that the saint owned or frequently used, for example, a crucifix, book etc.  Third-Class Relics are any object that is touched by a first- or second-class relic.

The Shroud of Turin

Relics have various degrees of importance for different faiths.  In the Catholic Church relics were an important aspect of the consecration of new altars and churches.  After Buddha’s death his cremated remains were divided up and place in the various Stupas that have now become important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists.  The “Cloak of the Prophet” is kept in the sacred Muslim Mosque of Kandahar, Afghanistan.  It is kept locked away and only taken out during times of great crisis.  Making a pilgrimage to these relics is often seen as a way to come closer to the saints and thus form a closer bond with God.

Simulacra have received considerable attention in the media recently, particularly on the internet.  This started in 1977 with Christ’s image on a flower tortilla, since labeled the “Miracle Tortilla,” and continued with the “Nun Bun” and the “Virgin Mary toast.” This phenomenon is not a new development as many early pilgrimages were made to grottos, caves and rock formations that presented the believer with an “image” of religious significance seemingly etched by natural element.  For many pilgrims these were seen as signs of the sacredness of the site and special “healing powers” were often associated with them.

It seems to me there are two questions that often arise in relationship to both the existence and use of relics and simulacra. The first question has to do with the validity of these objects (relics) and events/observation (simulacra).  Some scientists will explain simulacra by ascribing them to a human faculty for delusion called “pareidolia,” a perception of pattern and meaning from randomness.  Many scientists also believe that humans are hardwired to recognize facial patterns for example babies begin to recognize facial features by the time they are one month old).  In addition, human perceptual Gestalt principles operate subconsciously in all of us. They work automatically to fit partial pieces of information into a “whole” picture or figure.  Of course the issue of the validity of relics is a hotly contested issue.  Scientific research on the Shroud of Turin has raised serious questions about its age, placing its creation in the 13-14th century.  The Vatican has tiptoed around the issue, making no claim about its authenticity but calling it “an instrument of evangelization.”  I do not want to engage in arguments about “validity claims”.  Belief in these things has more to do with faith than it does with data.

The Nun Bun!

To me the more important question concerns the usefulness and meaning of these phenomenons in the lives of the pilgrims who travel to see them or choose to find significance in their mere occurrence.  If these events help to strengthen a person’s spiritual belief system, renew their faith in the presence of the divine, provide them with a purpose to explore their goals and priorities and/or promote and trigger a significant mystical or religious experience,  then I would argue it has been a good thing. Whether the person has trekked around the world to view the burial shroud of Christ or Buddha’s birth place, or found spiritual revelations in cloud formations or the shape of a breakfast pastry does not matter as long as the experience functions to deepen their spiritual connections.

 As a pluralist and a mystic I believe that the presence of the divine, along with revelations and insights can be found in all aspect of our existence.  If we are perceptive and open to these messages we will find them.  I take frequent walks and nature provides me with spiritual revelations in the cycles of nature, the beauty of a blossom, and the sensation of rain on my skin.  To some people it’s just the changing of the seasons, a flower and rain… to me they all have functionally profound spiritual significance.

Virgin Mary Toast!

 In the end,  isn’t it more important that I feel energized and invigorated and that I share these feelings  with other pilgrims?  What does it matter whether the insight came from a sacred scripture, a visit to a church or temple, a walk in the woods, or a water stain on my shower door!

Before I leave I want to add one additional  twist to our discussion of seeing or finding images in what appears to be random or haphazard patterns.  In Psychology there is a class of Personality tests called Projective tests.  The most famous among this group is the Rorschach, or “ink blot” test.  The rationale behind these tests is that if you present someone with an ambiguous stimuli like an ink blot, wood grain pattern or wall stain, a person will see images based upon their personality, needs and prevailing beliefs.  So a highly religious individual would be expected to see religiously significant images. 

I came across an example of Simulacra featured on a blog page.  A slab of granite was quarried that bore, in many peoples’ opinion, an image of Christ.  The piece reportedly sold for four times its usual value to a church which plans on placing it in their kitchen.  The blog site asked viewers what they saw in the image.  The results of this informal survey included: Christ’s image, a skull, a mother bird feeding it’s young, a mushroom, sexual genitalia, a dinosaur, a hotdog, to name only a few. What might you see?

 

Granite Slab Rorschach!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 149                                      Days Blogged: 133 

New Mileage: 5                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1036

Great Live Oak1

As I ride the bike this morning I have to chuckle to myself.  For the last several days we’ve been heading up the east coast of Florida and I have been covering a variety of topics.  I had a topic in mind this morning and then my intuition told me to check our journey map.  I quickly realized that given the distance we had travelled since our visit to Daytona Beach we had arrived at the next pilgrimage site.  As such my other topic will wait and today we visit a Washington Oaks Botanical Gardens

I didn’t find this park on some listing of Florida Religious Sites. Rather, I saw it on the map as I investigated possible routes up the coast.  And with it I found a fascinating history.  It is the story of a beautiful beach location cherished by a nature lover who saved it from development to be shared by all of us.

Koi Pond

The gardens are located on one of the North East Florida barrier islands.  To the west of it is the inter-coastal waterway, to the east is the Atlantic Ocean.  The site had started as a plantation after the European settlement of the area.  It changed hands several times with one of the owners being a surveyor named George Washington, a relative of President George Washington.  It was purchased in 1936 by Louise Polis Clark the wife of industrialist Owen Clark.  She purchased it as a winter retirement home and planted extensive gardens and a citrus grove.  Upon her death in the 1962 she deeded the land and gardens over to the state with the understandings that the gardens would be maintained for everyone’s enjoyment.  The site is home to numerous large moss covered live oak trees, the gardens, a koi-pond, and natural artisan springs.

 The Atlantic coastline is not a pristine ribbon of sand like we saw at Daytona Beach.  The beach here includes stacks of shaped and eroded stone.  But not just any stone, this material is Coquina.  It is a consolidated sedimentary rock made up largely of the remnants of sea creatures (coral and shells) and is classified as a type of limestone.  The material has been used to build buildings and pave roads along Florida’s east coast.  It can be easily “mined” and carried away.  However, while easy to remove, it is too unstable to use immediately.  It must be allowed to dry out for several years so that it can harden before us as building material.  Coquina was a popular building material for early forts.  Because of its softness, cannon balls would sink into it rather than shatter and explode. The photos of these beach stones remind me of Taoist Stones, weathered by water and wind giving them a fluid and putty like appearance.

Coquina on the beach

I’m glad that I checked the map today.  I would have hated to have missed this chance to visit these gardens with you.   Sites like this are testimonials to the effects that nature can have on all of us.   People’s desire for nature tranquility leads them to create beautiful personal gardens and then out of a sense of joy they donate the gardens so that we all might cherish them.  We saw this mindset in the US government’s set aside of land for our national parks, we see it today when individuals and organizations buying  up pristine land, jungles and rainforests to conserve them for future generations.  I am thankful for their efforts and thankful for their gifts.

I hope you will join me tomorrow when we will talk about religious relics and auspicious signs.  In the mean time check your morning toast, your pancake and your breakfast pastries for they may bear a spiritual revelation!

Beautiful Giant!

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Pilgrimage Statistics 

Consecutive Days Riding: 148                                      Days Blogged: 132 

New Mileage: 8                                                     Total Trip Mileage: 1031

As I ride the bike this evening I  think about my blog topics over the last several weeks.  It seems to me that a particular theme ribbon ran through several of the blogs.  From Taoist river stones that are shaped by thousands of year of river water, to Helen Wilmer-Post and the demise of her self-help healing empire at the hands of political intrigue.  We admired sunrises and the shifting drifting veils of clouds, and musings on death, cremation and a poem about spreading my ashes.  One of my blog followers noted: “your poem is beautiful! It’s haunting because it’s about death, but it’s still sweet because the “recipe” is filled with good things.”  I think this is a common reaction because we tend to perceive death as a negative and generally tragic event and thereby an “ugly” event. But it can also serve as an opportunity to celebrate a life well lived and to give thanks for life’s many gifts.

Mount Rushmore Monument

It seems to me that the thread is the issue of permanence, whether it be shifting and changing clouds or Taoist river stones shaped by the relentless river.  Being human we all desire a sense of permanence. Since ancient times, we have built monuments to mark our presence and to give a sense of permanence to our rulers and political institutions.  If you come back in the future, little of the glory and splendor of the site may be left intact. Eastern philosophy tells us that the permanence we grasp for is an illusion. Even mountains, given the time frame of nature, are weathered away becoming little more than sand on the shore and rich mud on the ocean floor.  Majestic lakes and seas fade away and dry up.

Backside of the Monument

I’m reminded of the statement: the only thing which does not change, is the process of change!”  No one can turn back the process of aging. Nor can we retain a young body.  Add as many initials as you like behind you name, achieve accolades and earn rewards, but in the end you will become nothing but dust.  Your name will become nothing more than an etching on a stone marker.  Someone might list you in a family tree, but you are little more than a name with dates.  What about all the years between the dates, the time period we call your life!

The second statement I like to quote is: “Change is mandatory, growth is optional.”  Nothing is permanent, everything changes.  The key to life is what we do with that change.  Do we roll with the punches; do we grow stronger and wiser, become more joyful?  Do we see the moments of life, the sunrises, the smile of a child, the touch of a lover for what they really are… gifts!  Do we embrace these and share them with others, our smile, our riches, and our touch?  Do we plant seeds of joy and happiness or do we spew forth anger and hatred.  Do we try to hold on to those things we can’t take with us? Do we commiserate over missed opportunities and past failures?  We enter the world naked and are given a first breath; we will exit the world with a final breath and leave everything, including a well dressed corpse behind. It’s what we do with the time and opportunities between the first and last breath that matters.

The third statement I embrace is: “It’s not about the outcome, winning the race, it’s about the process, and how you run the race!”

I hope you have enjoyed these “Words of Wisdom”.

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