November 2013

Dear Friend

I’m making November, Happy Thanksgiving month. I’ve had a great deal of time and inner calm to think about the big questions of life. I’ve concluded that the more thankful we are, the happier we become. As October ends and we move on to November, I want to hold in my heart all the people in my life –dead and alive – who bring me so much joy, inspiration, and wisdom. November is the month I was born. I’m especially appreciative to be alive. Each birthday is a blessing I celebrate.

A friend gave me a thought recently, “Think of all the things in your life that money can’t buy.” I enjoy making notes and lists in spiral notebooks, and when we dwell on the abundant blessings in our lives, we feel greater energy, and are motivated to act in loving ways toward others. I’ve been trying to give open attention to everything I do. When I do, I feel less frazzled in times of distress. It is well known that in our modern age our attention has shrunk. Deep thinking, meditative thinking, requires focus and freedom from random distractions. We have to pay attention to what we want to do as well as what we’re thinking. Selective attention, where we can stay absorbed in whatever activities we choose, means we have to disengage in other activities. This is a good definition of following your bliss.

In Daniel Goleman’s exceptionally insightful new book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, he talks about protected time. We need enough to think freely. Years ago, the book Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi made a huge impression on me. The more time we spend doing things we enjoy that bring us pleasure, the more percent of our waking hours will be in the flow state. When our mind wanders, it tends to dwell on the unhappy. When, however, we can achieve a Zen-like state of calm, our mind is quiet and receptive to receive grace. How fortunate we would be if we were able to be in a state of inner peace, compassion, and gratitude all of the time, however that’s not possible. We have to be mindful and concentrate.

Of course, this emotional state is impossible unless we have the understanding that being constantly available to unknown others is destroying our ability to contemplate our lives in deeply philosophical ways. Constant interruptions turn us into soulless machines who become insensitive to the needs of loved ones. By becoming addicted to the demands placed on us, this choice means that the more tender relationships are neglected.

It all goes back to choice. There are no easy, quick, cheap solutions. But I’m experiencing an unprecedented degree of selfishness among the financially successful, and it is at too great a cost. Obviously, this complicity to being available 24 hours a day and having to respond instantaneously is not only unsustainable, but so utterly shortsighted and narrow-minded. This is not only not sustainable, this is cold-blooded and mean-spirited. That said, when, in my mindful consciousness, I pay attention to the smallest details of the compassion, kindness, and generosity of most people I’m in touch with on a regular basis, I’m aware that their own pain, sorrows, and loss, their sufferings, have deepened them to reach out to others in loving ways that make all the difference.

The first dictionary definition of success is to “achieve something you attempt.” My mentor and former boss, Eleanor McMillen Brown’s favorite word was “success.” The second definition of success is to “gain fame or prosperity.” I’m not sure I feel the sacrifices, lack of attention and lack of love are worth the 15 minutes of fame. Somehow people’s values become superficial, outer-directed, and thoughtless.

For the month of November, in this beginning of the holiday season, I’m deliberately planning to try to live with more open awareness, observe all the wondrous miraculous blessings everywhere. What we focus on becomes our reality. The more I feel gratitude for the life at hand, the more I focus my time and attention on the generosity, kindness, and compassion of the people in my life, the more fulfilled and satisfied I feel.

I’m not sure, at my age and in my experience, if the success train and the happiness train can ever be the same. If it were possible, however, to set boundaries, to deeply engage in work we love, but not to the exclusion of spending time with our family and friends, I’m 100% in favor of someone trying to be professionally successful. I am a woman who continues to try to live deeply in the trenches of life. I would not be able to face myself, however, if I turned by back on a loved one in order to further my career. I’ll become, through education, disillusioned by people I once looked up to as heroes, only to learn that their own self-interests blinded them to their higher values of honor, decency, and loyalty. If being successful turns us into hypocrites, what price success?

The more we appreciate others, the more attention we pay to them, the more love is present. One thing I feel strongly about: Never cast the first stone. There are unknown circumstances that cause problems and technological glitches that are inexplicable: my website problems and apparently the White House has had some recent trouble. I’m grateful to you for your loyal support and your encouraging words of comfort and wisdom about Carl’s death.

Because of my work and family schedule and the other demands on my time and energy, I have not kept up with my correspondence to be able to reply to each letter. In time, I will try, because it means so much to me to be able to show you my appreciation in a hand written note. Just know that the hole in my heart is being healed by your generous understanding of the pain of his death. Another reason I am behind on my note writing is because I am obsessed with one of the five most important questions humans can ask, “Where do we go when we die?”

Happy Thanksgiving! Lincoln’s Proclamation to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise applies to you, dear friends. I sing your praises and feel the joy of your presence in my life.

Great love to you,

Love & Live Happy

Oh, the roses!

Grace Note

"It is so small a thing to have enjoy'd the sun,
To have lived light in the spring,
To have loved, to have thought, to have done ..."

~~ Mathew Arnold