Tuesday’s Quotes – November 7, 2017 – Election Day

“As heirs to a legacy more than two centuries old, it is understandable why present-day Americans would take their own democracy for granted. A president freely chosen from a wide-open field of two men every four years; a Congress with a 99% incumbency rate; a Supreme Court comprised of nine politically appointed judges whose only oversight is the icy scythe of Death — all these reveal a system fully capable of maintaining itself. But our perfect democracy, which neither needs nor particularly wants voters, is a rarity. It is important to remember there still exist other forms of government in the world today, and that dozens of foreign countries still long for a democracy such as ours to be imposed on them.”
— Jon Stewart, “America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction”

Yes, I know off-cycle elections aren’t very exciting for most of us, but keeping abreast of local politics, and participating, is actually the only way to understand what’s gone wrong at the state and national levels.

So, if you are eligible to vote, and have an election happening in your area – please get out there and VOTE!


We’re 3 years old!


“I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading: It vexes me to choose another guide.”

–Emily Brontë

It’s very hard for me to believe, but Time for my thoughts passed its third birthday  this past Friday (& yes, I did miss it – I’m terrible with anniversaries). It was September 1, 2014 when I published my first post. It wasn’t particularly interesting or profound, but there it was – written & sent out into the ether for someone to see. Of course, the initial someone was my elder daughter, who said she could hear my voice in her head while she was reading and found it disconcerting. For my part – that was great news. I’d quite literally found my voice! Which is good – it’s much easier for me to write that way. She says she still can, and it still is disconcerting, so if nothing else, I’ve managed to stay true to myself & made the blog’s chosen name more meaningful. Even if I’m keeping my voice in my daughter’s head from halfway around the globe.

I’ve continued to learn over the past year, and, as usual, some things I’ve chosen to disregard, others I’ve incorporated. I’ve gained a surprising number of new followers, and I’ve most likely lost a few more, too, but it would be strange if I didn’t. Some of the bloggers I had been interacting with are no longer blogging, which is unfortunate, but we all need to go where our own paths take us. I’ve never expected a huge following, and to me, my current number is pretty huge considering the fact that my blog is really all about me – Time for my thoughts pretty much spells it out – and I’m not a high-volume blogger (too many competing priorities). I, admittedly, like to see the numbers rise, and am a bit disappointed on a day that has no views, although most days do manage to have one or two. I don’t publish every day simply because I don’t want to make the time – I have a fairly demanding job, a part-time volunteer job, a retired spouse, a teenager still at home, other projects, and a need to make sure that whatever I’m writing is accurate (poorly proofread, perhaps, but accurate), and now we’re also trying to get our house finally ready to sell, and sifting through our post-sale option. My family copes well with my assorted writing endeavors, but it’s nice to have some family time sometimes, too. And some downtime for me occasionally is also helpful.

My current posting schedule still works for me most weeks, so I’ll stick with it for now. Sometimes it isn’t easy to stick to a schedule (and days like this my posts are written quite late), but out of all that I learned in Blogging U that first year, I think it may be the most important. I’ve come to realize that nonfiction works best for me in a blog, so I’ll continue to trudge down that path – although reality lately has often been stranger than fiction. I’m a poor planner, and am not likely to change, so most things that I write will continue to be written on the fly. I do plan to continue with the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion posts each month most months – even though it is no longer following a formal schedule, I still think it’s a wonderful idea, and pushing myself to focus on compassion once a month helps me stay balanced during the rest of the month. I’ll continue to keep those posts close to the 20th just to make sure that I really get the posts written (deadlines: sometimes I really need them).

I’m still wary of social networking. I still have no clue what Google+ is for, so its pretty much exclusively for Time for my thoughts, I’ve recently become a bit more active on Twitter – but 140 characters are hard to work with,  my only Facebook account is my personal one – and one of the reasons I started the blog was to be able to expand on my views somewhere not in Facebook. If I ever find the energy to become a power blogger, I’ll reconsider Facebook. But I am still thinking about grabbing the timeformythoughts URL since it’s still available and I’m still blogging. If anyone has any suggestions/comments/experiences to share about that, they would be much appreciated.

Thank you for reading and, especially, for  continuing to share your thoughts with me, as I continue on my journey down my own path, and I hope to never forget this wise advice from Albert Einstein:

“The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

Photo take July 4, 2017 from the Walkway Over The Hudson.


Love a label? Finding compassion among the silos…

A couple of recent conversations with my younger daughter brought this post – originally published on October 19, 2015 – into my mind, so I’ve chosen to run it again as this month’s #1000Speak post & also as a potential conversation starter because I think, in some respects, it may be more relevant now than it was 20 months ago.

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.”
— Ram Dass

Recently a headline that I barely glanced at somehow infiltrated my subconscious and stuck there. And got me thinking about how our human need to identify with a group, and still somehow distinguish ourselves, may be making it harder for others to relate to us a people. Compassion is still possible. Compassion is always possible. But empathy? Empathy is harder to attain when dealing with such narrowly defined labels. Especially when those labels are often guarded so militantly.

“‘Pansexual’ Rises on National Coming Out Day” read the headline. Um, well, okay. I personally think that National Coming Out Day is a good idea – I think it’s important for people to be honest about who they are, and if having a dedicated date to do that makes it easier to do, then that’s all that matters.  It was the ‘pansexual’ label that drew me in. Perhaps because the adult  daughter of a friend varies her sexual-orientation label with quite a bit of flexibility. She is, primarily, lesbian. Sometimes she identifies herself as asexual. Or bisexual. And that’s okay, too, I think, but I do worry that sometimes she seems to assume that others just instinctively know where she is, and is annoyed that they don’t get it. Yeah, there’s surely more than a bit of drama here, which I think her friends mostly ignore, but it does make me wonder whether she ever feels isolated because of her strong need to label herself. But this problem of labels is one that exists far beyond sexual-orientation labels.

The notion that humans need to identify as a part of a group more specific than ‘human’ is well established. We identify by nationality, ethnicity, gender, color, religious affiliations, occupations, hobbies, sexual orientation, class, political views – and winnow it down further by subcategories within those groups. But we modern, westernized, humans have also developed a strong need to be seen as unique. The result seems to be that we seek increasingly fine-tuned labels because we want to make sure that no part of our individuality is missed, while at the same time needing those labels to help us find others that are more like us.

But group identification, and highly individualized labels, while helping us find our place in society and providing us some measure of support can leave us more isolated as well. Just when it’s possible that we need more love and compassion, we may find it more difficult to obtain.

One of the more unfortunate aspects of human behavior, rooted deep in our survival instincts, is a fear of that which is not us. We instinctively distrust ‘different’, just as we instinctively move toward ‘like’. This protects us from obvious predators, and from warring tribes, but does little for us in our day to day interactions. For the most part, we have those instinctive reactions so well in hand that we barely notice them, and they don’t prevent us from navigating through our lives, but they do lie at the base of our prejudices, and, occasionally, irrational dislike of people that we just met.

Each additional layer of group identification adds to those things that are different, or that fall outside of our range of tolerance. Or the tolerance limits of one or more of the groups that we identify with. Sometimes when we wholly embrace the views of a group, we end up cutting ourselves off not only from the larger society around us, but possibly from our families and friends.

I think our ability to be compassionate with those outside our silos is often limited because we confuse empathy and compassion, and we do not always understand that love can exist without a personal relationship.

“The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another”

— Thomas Merton

Compassion and love go hand in hand. Compassion can, and should, be taught. We recognize the suffering of others, and feel the compulsion to act. Love in this sense can also be taught, I think, for it is the love of our fellow beings, and animals, as well, that enables compassion and the desire and willingness to act in some way to alleviate the suffering of others. Empathy, which requires a way of relating to the others that cannot be taught – it requires a shared experience, or a natural ability that is possessed by few. Empathy can be particularly difficult when our own micro-universes keep us removed from those outside, but since we can feel love and compassion regardless of how narrowly we define ourselves, there should be no impediment.

And yet, in a somewhat ironic turn, the continual shrinking of the world at large seems to lead to a magnification of our differences. That magnification fuels fear, which fuels hate. So rather than an increasing globalization leading us to see each other as the same, we are focusing more on our differences. In order to move to a more compassionate, and peaceful, world, we need to open up our minds to the simple reality that we are all humans. To understand that we all are trying to make our way through this life as best we can, and that all of us need help and support from time to time. And that love and respect are something that we all need. And deserve.

“Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

Do I have an answer? No, and there is no simple solution. But we all need to challenge ourselves to push past our preconceptions and prejudices – to suppress that urge to react to the different instead of interacting with it.

As I was writing this, possibly apropos of nothing, possibly in a sudden burst of insight, this quote from HG Wells came into my head and refused to leave:

“Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you’ve been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are.”

Perhaps if we all remembered, and became, the person we are, instead of being consumed by the person we’ve become, the world really would be a more compassionate place.

Thoughts on Listening

Very unoriginal this month, I fear. I’ve been giving a great deal of thought recently to the overwhelming lack of polite discourse (particularly political, but not limited to politics), and it’s disturbing how we seem to have stopped listening (or only listening long enough to get our own point across). That (very human) tendency only serves to further divide, and makes compassion difficult, and empathy all but impossible. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, I’ve dusted off my August 2015 themed post on Listening. Instead of listening to find an opening for a response, think of how much better off we’d be if we simply listened, and really thought before responding – or realized that sometimes no response is necessary.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

— Anonymous (but with many unconfirmed attributions to Robert McClosky – not the children’s author, a State Department spokesman during the Vietnamese War in the late 1960’s)

When I first started planning what to write for this month’s  #1000Speak post on listening, the quote above popped into my head. An old favorite from my youth (I think I may have first encountered it in an Art Buchwald column at the time). It is, perhaps, not entirely in line with the compassion theme, but it serves to start off with a reminder that we often hear the words and not the intent, and in order to listen compassionately, we have to move beyond our natural tendency toward distracted listening.

The next thing that popped into my head, and stayed there for days (oh, those pesky earworms) was Cat Stevens’ highly introspective, and very short, song, “The Wind”:

“I listen to the wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I’ll end up, well, I think
Only God really knows”

This is also, perhaps, not entirely relevant to a piece on compassionate listening, but it, too, has its place. Compassion has to start within us. And learning to be still and listen to ourselves will bring us closer to being able to do the same for others. It is true that if we are not listening to ourselves mindfully, and with compassion, we will never be able to listen to others compassionately. It sounds trite, but we have to understand ourselves before we can understand others. So, listen to that voice in your head, and occasionally the one in your heart, so that you can find your own equilibrium. That makes is much easier to simply live in a world inhabited by other people, and makes it possible to reach out. With a helping hand, or to take one.

“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”

— Margaret J. Wheatley

Hearing is passive, listening is active. We hear an overwhleming amount all day long. Those of us capable of hearing, are also incapable of turning it off. We are, in fact, bombarded by sounds, all of the time. Our brains, helpfully, do block out ‘normal’ sounds while we sleep – so that we can sleep – and they also filter sounds, in much the same way that they filter abundant visual stimulation, by deciding what’s relevant, and dialing back what isn’t (or hopefully isn’t).

Unfortunately, we filter quite a bit, unconsciously, while listening, also. This is very apparent when we listen while doing other things – we get distracted by email while on a conference call, or we are attempting to eat dinner while chatting with a friend on the phone, or we are trying to read while our children are talking to us about something that we have minimal interest in, or… There a veritable multitude that I’m guilty of and I know I’m not alone. Suddenly I realize that I have absolutely no idea what we are talking about – let alone why my opinion is necessary.

“So when you are listening to somebody, completely, attentively, then you are listening not only to the words, but also to the feeling of what is being conveyed, to the whole of it, not part of it.”

— Jiddu Krishnamurti

When we attempt to listen while doing other tasks, we often miss the intent, if not the actual words. When someone tells us they are tired, it could be simply a factual observation. Or it could mean that they’re bored (a common problem with teens). Or it could be indicative of an existential crisis. Or depression. Unless we are really listening – to the words as well as the tone, the underlying emotion – we may miss something important. Perhaps even an attempt to reach out.

“Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen

But, we have another, more difficult, problem when listening. Part of our brain’s filtering, categorizing, and self-protective functions, includes keeping ‘me’ front and center. Even when we are listening attentively, we are still hearing through our own filters – our own experiences, prejudices, belief system. A co-worker’s spouse has gout? How did your Aunt Jane deal with hers? We are often listening more with an ear out for how to respond. Even if our intent is sympathy, understanding, common ground, it is still making the listening about us, not about the person we’re listening to. Many times all that is needed is someone to listen. Not to offer advice, not to commiserate. Just to listen. This is perhaps hardest of all. Part of our desire to connect leads us to seek out a common thread that we can respond with, but that comes from our own desire. Ask if there’s anything we can do, if that’s appropriate, and sincere, but don’t preface the offer with a commentary about Aunt Jane’s gout, or your problems with morning sickness during your second trimester.

Don’t multi-task, try to take your own experiences out of the equation, and just listen. Something that is increasingly difficult to do in our highly electronic, multi-tasking oriented world, but it is necessary to try as we continue our efforts to make our corner of the universe a better, more compassionate place.

“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Featured Image -- 322

Please check out the weekly and monthly magazines to see some of the wonderful pieces that have been collected.

To add your voice to the 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion, please check out the Facebook group here.

Life on Mars…

“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”  — Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince

Happily tucked away in Los Alamos, New Mexico for the next few days, but it was harder to leave Arizona this year – in spite of the seriously excessive heat  in the valley (110F when we arrived, roughly 108 the rest of the time) – but of course much cooler and cloudier as we departed. And the rain followed us, but, no matter – the forecast is looking up after tonight. And there was a tornado warning near home today, so it’s much better here. But still, it was nice spending time with friends. And, this year, arriving at the hotel kind of felt like coming home. My theory about that part of the country is that there is so much sunshine, the skies are so blue, and everything looks so clean and bright, that a form of reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder strikes – you being to think that all of the excessive heat is not really that bad – that you could actually live there… And then you leave, and arrive somewhere with much more normal temperatures, and a bit more moisture in the air, and… you come back to reality.

Our day today started with a bit of wildlife – spotted a brown bear near a dumpster in downtown Los Alamos this morning (and helpfully told the animal control officer already on the way where we saw him) – almost like home. Except the bear hide better at home, and tend to avoid citified places.

We’re missing Colorado, and family, this trip – scheduling around school left us with too little time for a proper visit – but we hope to fly out for a few days later in the year. Preferably in between summer tourist season, and winter ski season.

Thought I’d share a few Martian landscape photos from our days in Arizona – hoping for better New Mexico photo ops in the days ahead.

Paradise Valley on Monday:


Tempe on Tuesday:

On the way out of Ganado on Thursday:

The featured image was of the flowers on our hotel room’s patio in Scottsdale.

Still trying to find balance (redux)

“True self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of non-self elements. There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

The following post was originally printed on March 23, 2016 & is reposted in its entirety with the exception of a changed (very much longer & far more political) introduction.

I awoke this morning, as many of us here in the US did, to news of a horrific mass shooting event in Orlando, Florida, in a gay nightclub shortly before closing time. As it stands now 50 people are dead, and 53 others were injured, in what is the deadliest mass shooting on US soil. The gunman, a US citizen who was killed during the siege, had self-professed ties to ISIS, was investigated previously by the FBI for terrorist connections, and yet had, in easygoing Florida, managed to arm himself quite well – legally. The act was certainly terrorism, and the specific target may have been more personally motivated based on comments that the gunman’s father has made.

The entire incident was a sad, horrifying tragedy – that’s what terrorism by definition does. You only succeed in terrorizing when you are targeting civilians in places where they feel safe & normal. The response is what determines how successful the terrorists are.

Unfortunately, GOP preemptive presidential candidate Donald Trump took the opportunity to pat himself on the back for being right about terrorism in the US – but this certainly would not have been prevented by closing our borders. The extreme right wing pundits are managing to blame President Obama – because well everything else is is his fault, isn’t it? The left has, somewhat more rightfully, noted that the guns used were legal & registered, and are focusing their energy on renewed calls for some form of bans of ‘assault’ type weapons such as the AR-15. Which while valid, also perhaps miss the point. One of the bigger points to be made here is the NRA sponsored push to not regulate weapons even for suspected terrorists because better to let a few bad apples through. Well, this is the result of what they & the politicians in their pockets have wrought. Hopefully the people, and the majority of NRA members actually do support sensible controls, will stop accepting this kind of purchased voting from their elected representatives – and show their outrage when the vote in November. And perhaps also vote for a leadership change in the NRA itself.

But I keep coming back to education – and how critical it is – because ultimately only an educated people can stop the hate that drives this global descent into madness. When you understand the logical conclusion of your own beliefs, and you understand, and respect, how others think, you have the ability to work toward a common good. An uneducated populace, or a people educated only to believe what they are taught – not to really learn the world as others experience it, will always be easily manipulated by those in power. And make no mistake – war, and its cousin terrorism, have always been about power – not about any greater good, or lofty religious ideal.

And especially here, in the US, as we bear down rapidly on another presidential election, with more than have of our elected representatives also on the line, we need to really educate ourselves about the issues, and the potential solutions. We are being endlessly manipulated into believing that we are further apart than we are. We have to find the middle ground in order to survive. Hate and demagoguery never solved anything. Ever.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

— Nelson Mandela

As I sit here, thinking about what to write for my Sunday post this week, I, who usually have no problem with words at all, am very nearly stumped. It’s not that the words aren’t here, in my head, it’s just that they don’t seem to be finding their way onto paper in any form that makes sense.

So out of the word soup that is filling my head, I need to manage to write this, as well as my Friday post & get some of my homework done (what a time to decide to go back to school)

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

— Victor Frankl

By its very nature, terrorism looks to force an extreme reaction. It ultimately thrives on extreme reactions. At the most fundamental level a terrorist uses violence to frighten people into compliance. Or tries to. On a micro level, within communities, this frequently does work. Attack a busload of female schoolchildren and people often decide to keep their daughters safe at home. Kill a few politicians and judges, and local crimes get overlooked. Bomb a women’s health clinic, and frighten some women out of medical care. But on a macro level, something else often happens. Governments step in and close borders, they launch military strikes, they round people up indiscriminately and keep them detained away from public view. They meet terrorism with terrorism. Of course, when governments do it, it isn’t terrorism – it’s a ‘police action’ or an actual act of war. The problem with this strategy, a reaction to the fear and anxiety that terrorism provokes in the general population, is that it generally doesn’t work. What is does is provide the group behind the terrorism with inspiration for new converts.

Historically, and by definition, terrorism is about political ideology, In the 60’s and 70’s, it was primarily over independence – for the Irish, Puerto Ricans, Basques – or for a governmental overhaul – the Red Brigade, Baader Meinhof. Anarchists always had an affinity for terror tactics. But the last few decades have seen the rise of fundamentalist religious terrorism. Everyone thinks immediately of Islam and the Middle East, and that has certainly been a loci, but I’m not sure what else you call ‘christians’ who bomb women’s healthcare facilities – or kill abortion providers. In the name of very old, much retouched by people with their own sensibilities, books, the fundamentalist extremists seem to think that the clocks should all be brought back to the times that those books were written. And that everyone needs to believe as they do. But the electronic, global, interconnected world we inhabit today is very much not the nomadic desert or river plain agrarian world that it was when those books were written. If you believe that those books are the word of God, then surely they are metaphor, and in parts, obsolete – for it takes a great deal of hubris to think that an all-powerful, all-knowing, God would have allowed humanity to progress this far if his intent was that it be otherwise. But in religion, as in politics, it is nearly impossible to change the mind of someone with extreme views. And logic doesn’t matter when discussing faith.

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

— Thomas Jefferson

Terrorism can really only be fought as a police and intelligence battle – military force only helps it grow. In the US, and Europe, ‘christian’ terrorists are handled internally as police matters. In the short-term, with the Jihadists, the governments of the Middle Eastern and Gulf sets have to join together – in the end, they have the most to lose if the region isn’t stabilized.

But I think that education, which fundamentalists of all stripes fight so vehemently against, is the key to eventually making the world a better place. It isn’t going to be easy, but for the long-term survival of our species, it’s critical. Nothing needed for the long-term is ever really easy, and it certainly isn’t quick – but the future belongs to the children. And our best legacy is to ensure that our children learn about the world and the people in it, and begin to understand.

“If you want to end the war then Instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of sending tanks, send pens. Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers.”

— Malala Yousafzai

Image from publicdomainpictures.net