Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving, 2015

                  Finding Thankfulness and Gratitude in My Life

            “Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude.  Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words.  Gratitude is shown in acts.”
 –Henri Frederic Amiel, Swiss philosopher

            The harvest is in, the garden has been put to bed, and the weather has turned cold.  The days are growing shorter; winter has arrived. It is the season of a comfortable chair, a warm blanket, a mug of tea and a good book. 

            It is also a time of being thankful and grateful.  At Thanksgiving, we gather around the table, sharing food and companionship.  It is a time of quiet celebration.

            Thanksgiving is a quiet, contemplative holiday with few expectations.  Simply being together and sharing a meal is all that the holiday seems to require of us.  Oh, and the obligatory giving of thanks. In the rush towards the consumerism and frenzy of Christmas, it seems easy to slide right by this time of giving thanks, and plunge into the next holiday. 

            And, when we do that, we forget to pause and reflect, and to be truly thankful.

            The real holiday, the real celebration this week is a time to go inward, to truly appreciate what we have in our lives, and how we are to live, to truly be children of God.  Thanksgiving is all about love, in all of its dimensions.

            This year there is much to be thankful for: the necessities of life, purposeful work, time with friends and family, health, and being able to serve, to be of service.

            People in my life this year have achieved much.  One friend is moving into a new home, his first, very own, this is really mine, home.  A year ago, he was adrift, unemployed, unsure of himself.  Today, due to his hard work and his belief in all of his possibilities, he has a rich, purposeful life.

            Another friend is casting aside distractions and old misery, and healing old wounds.  He’s taking charge, doing healthy things, putting his life in order.

            Another friend passed a test in school.  He conquered his fears, his self doubts; he has conquered his sabotage of a future of rich possibilities.  He is ready to move on, and he has shown to himself that he can grow, and learn, and be successful.  He has climbed his own mountain, and can believe in himself.

            I am recharging my own creative energies. I am writing a serious book that gives voice to those who are less fortunate. I am immersing myself in creating music and art, and being an advocate for others.  I am pausing to look at the beauty of the world, in this very moment, to appreciate who I am and where I am going.

All this is scary, terrifying work.  What if I actually accomplish what I dream? Are there really no barriers, no limits to what I can accomplish, if I put my mind and my soul into the effort?  I might be successful? Me? But, then I will have to take on even greater challenges, and be responsible for my effort. Really? Little old me? 

            Yes, me.  I am the one.  I am the one who can change the world, one little step at a time.  Changing the world is really my job.  And, I can do it. 

            We all have our obstacles.  And we are all capable of success, and believing in our strengths, our possibilities. 

I am a citizen of the world and I pay attention, I learn, and I try to apply my energies and my awareness to being an instrument of positive change.

We live in troubled times.  Yet that has also been true in years past.  Every generation has faced that challenge, and had to answer that question, can I really accomplish my dream?

I choose to be an agent of change, and to not retreat into silence and indifference. I believe we are called to respond and to act, to be proactive, to be God’s instruments of change.

Maybe I can’t wave my magic wand and achieve world peace. But, I can move in that direction.  I can bring myself and my work into a state of constructive peacefulness.  I can work to nurture that energy into my family, my neighborhood,  and my community.  

I can make a difference.

I can join with other like-minded people, and consistently do good works. 

Each of us is a peace-maker.  Peace making has to start somewhere. 

“Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me,” the song says.

We all have our story.  Be a listener, and hear someone speak their truth,
perhaps for the first time. Let everyone’s story be told, and be heard.

Each of us can do an act of kindness and compassion.   Pay an act of kindness forward. Buy a stranger a coffee, help an elderly person with a package, talk to a friend, visit the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned.  Maybe bring a meal to a sick neighbor.  Volunteer. 

Strike up a conversation while waiting at the grocery store check out.  Ask the clerk how they are doing and listen to their answer. Hear them, deeply and compassionately.  Hug a friend who seems upset, lost, without hope.

In any of that work, there is kindness and compassion.  You are giving of yourself, and you are showing others how to be human, how to be kind and loving.

            “Be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi said.

            Our example, just something simple, can change one person’s life.  And in that, we change the world.  We make our planet just a little better. 

            Isn’t that the Golden Rule? Isn’t that what the prophets, the scions of great religions have preached?  Isn’t that being an instrument of God’s love for every one of us?

            Each of us is special, unique.  We are here for a reason.  And, isn’t that reason to show love and compassion, to be kind, generous, thoughtful of others?  By our example, we show the way, we demonstrate how people should really live, how we really are the children of God. 

            Today, I give thanks, and I am grateful.  And, in my own, small way, I am making a difference, I am changing the world, one small act of kindness at a time.

                                    ---Neal Lemery, November 24, 2015

Friday, November 13, 2015

Really Listening

                                                Really Listening
I listen to the quiet between the words.  In that interval between the sounds of us talking, the true, deep meaning is to be found, if only I am gentle with myself, and the speaker, moving into the space of the depth of true understanding.
If I listen to myself and to you, truly listen, then I will hear your true voice, and mine.  I will hear the message that I need to listen, deeply, intentionally, and with love and understanding.  In that lies my intention. I will connect with the heart of our true conversation.
Yes, the words have meaning, and stories are told from the words, and then some.  More.  I listen to the sentences, the rhythm of the speaker, inflections, the rising and falling of the cadence of the words.  I am led gently down the path of the storyteller, and shown the meaning of the words.
What is really being told here, I wonder.  There is more, there is always more.  My task is that of the explorer, the miner digging for the gold in the midst of the rubble, the ordinary chit-chat that often passes for conversation. Herein lies something even greater. So, truly listen.
Go deeper, I am sensing.  There is more to this than just what I am hearing, what is being said.
Underneath this, there is more.  I can feel it deep within me.
There are many layers to this tale, and I listen harder, taking in the silence, strewn among the spoken words, wanting everything that is revealed. I am seeking the message of the silence, exploring its vocabulary, its nuances.  What are you really saying here? And, what am I being called to really hear?
We feel the silence now; the spoken words uttered.  There is tension, the tension of the anticipated, the expected, the comforting patter of more words, more sounds. 
I am on edge; we both are.  This space between these words is new, irritating, literally dis-quieting.  I find myself yearning for a word, a phrase, to keep the banter going.  Part of me is reticent, to not really listen.  Do I prefer banality? Being on the surface, and not going deep.  Can’t I stay here, gliding on the mere surface of our conversation? Then, I won’t have to ponder the silences, and hear in my heart the real meaning of what your heart is saying.
Now I hear your breath, and mine.  There are other sounds, too.  Clothes, papers rustling, air moving, the ordinary background noises of whatever kind of place we are in, the place of normal, everyday conversations, the detritus of our daily lives. 
Yet, when I go deeper, beyond this ordinary sound clutter, my mind literally opens up, expands, so that I can take in all that you are expressing to me, the stuff beyond conversation, beyond the plain words of everyday conversation.
My senses broaden  ---  feeling, seeing, hearing, touching, and yes, even smelling all that you are offering me, in this near vacuum of experience between us. Yet, it is rich and full, and not vacuous, a contradiction.  Or is it? This is rich territory, and, so often, new to me.
If I would only truly sense what you are offering me, I would understand so much more.  You have so much information, so many ideas to express to me, if only I would be open to you, truly open. If I do this right, my senses, my intuition, the entirety of my entire array of sensory neurons would be on fire, overloaded with all that you are telling me.
You share with me in so many ways, ways that we both would agree would be of such enormity that neither of us would be deemed to be competent to assess, even measure.
Henri Nouwen wrote: “Somewhere, we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening, speaking no longer heals; that without distance, closeness cannot cure.
He calls us to visit that “somewhere”, which is beyond our daily, mundane experience, and open ourselves as far as we believe we can go, into new territory of our existence, our humanity. 
He calls us to embrace the silence, and truly listen, to stake out that space between us, and let us be able to reach out to each other within that emptiness, and finally grow.
Now, I can’t reach any further out and listen harder, for the harder I work at this, the more difficult it becomes.  Another conundrum.  But isn’t that life?
The more I try, the less I succeed. No, I need to be now, just be, in all my humanity.  I must listen more gently, easier, more fully with all of my senses, with all of my feelings, on the edges of my soul, my very being.  On the rim of my existence, I must stretch further, letting the experience become in and of itself, beyond mere thought.
In that, I will truly listen to what you are telling me, and I will, at last, hear you, in all of your wonderful mystery and beauty.
                                                --Neal Lemery


Friday, November 6, 2015

Prison to Greatness | Noah Schultz | TEDxSalem

An inspiring story of a young man who achieves great success through his time at Oregon Youth Authority. His story is not unlike the stories of the young men I mentor at OYA's Tillamook campus.

A fabulous Ted Talk

Prison to Greatness | Noah Schultz | TEDxSalem

Thursday, November 5, 2015

A Day to Explain

a new poem from a young poet...

A Day to Explain

When the day is to exhale
The dead of night will sail
On an airplane one flies
Some might prevail
From comfort to pain
I see heaven and hell
A state of mind it is
But a reality to tell
It feels like an illusion
When fact his reality
Full of wonder it is
So most answer with deity
No judgment to others
But a question that’s unclear
Maybe all this thinking
Is the reason I’m here.

--Samwell Manjur

November, 2015