Flying Lessons

When you have come to the edge of all the light you have
And step into the darkness of the unknown
Believe that one of the two will happen to you
Either you'll find something solid to stand on
Or you'll be taught to fly!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Story of The DesertSealion

The Sea Lion
John Eldredge (The Journey of Desire)
Once upon a time there lived a sea lion who lost the sea. He lived in a country
known as the barren lands. High on a plateau, far from any coast, it was a place so dry and dusty that it could only be called a desert. A kind of course grass grew in patches here and there, and a few trees were scattered across the horizon. But mostly, it was dust, and sometimes wind, which together make on very thirsty.

Of course, it must seem strange to you that such a beautiful creature should wind up in a desert at all. He was, mind you, a sea lion. But things like this do happen. How the sea lion came to the barren lands, no one could remember. It all seemed so very long ago. So long in fact, it appeared as though he had always been there. Not that he belonged in such an arid place. How can that be? He was after all, a sea lion. But as you know, once you have lived so long in a certain spot, no matter how odd, you come to think of it as home.

There was a time, many years back, when the sea lion, knew he was lost. In those days, he would stop every traveler he met to see if he might help him find his way back to the sea. But no one seemed to know the way. On he searched, but never finding. After years without success, the sea lion took refuge beneath a solitary tree beside a very small water hole. The tree provided refuge from the burning rays of the sun, which was very fierce in that place. And the water hole, though small and muddy, was wet, in its own way. Here he settled down and got on as best as he could. Had you journeyed in those days through the barren lands, you might have seen the lion for yourself. Quite often in the evening, he would go and sit upon his favorite rock, a very large boulder, which lifted him off the burning sand and allowed him a view of the entire country.
There he would remain for hours into the night, silhouetted against the sky. And on the best nights, when the wind shifted to the east, a faint smell of salt air would come to him on the breeze. Then he would close his eyes and imagine himself once more at the sea. When he lay himself down to sleep, he would dream of a vast, deep ocean. Twisting and turning, diving and twirling, he would swim and swim and swim. When he woke, he thought he heard the sound of breakers. The sea was calling to him...
The sea lion loved his rock, and he even loved waiting night after night for the
sea breezes that might come. Especially he loved the dreams those memories would stir. But as you well know, even the best of dreams cannot go on, and in the morning when the sea lion woke, he was still in the barren lands. Sometimes he would close his eyes and try to fall back asleep but it never seemed to work, for the sun was always very bright.
Eventually it became too much for him to bear. He began to visit his rock only
on occasion. “I have too much to do, “He told himself. “I cannot waste my time just idling about. He really did not have so much to do. The truth of it was, waking so far from home was such a disappointment, and he did not want to have those wonderful dreams anymore. The day finally came when he stopped going to his rock altogether, and he no longer lifted his nose to the wind when the sea breezes blew.

The sea lion was not entirely alone in those parts. For it was there that he met
the tortoise. Now this tortoise was an ancient creature, so weathered by his life in the barren lands that at first, the sea lion mistook him for a rock. He told the tortoise of his plight, hoping that this wise one might be able to help him. “Perhaps” the tortoise mused, “this is the sea”. His eyes appeared to be shut against the bright sun, but he was watching the sea lion very closely. The sea lion swept his flippers once against his side, gliding to the end of the water hole and back.” I don’t know” he said, “It isn’t very deep.” “Isn’t it”, “Somehow, I thought the sea would be broader, deeper. At least, I hoped so.”

“You must learn to be happy here” the tortoise told him one day. “For is
unlikely you shall ever find this sea of yours.” Deep in his old and shriveled heart, the tortoise envied the sea lion and his sea... “But I belong to the sea. We were made for each other...” Perhaps but you have been gone so long now, the sea has probably forgotten you”. This thought had never occurred to the sea lion. But it was true; he had been gone for a long, long time. “If this is not my home, how can I ever feel at home here?” the sea lion asked. “You will in time.” The tortoise appeared to be squinting, his eyes a thin slit. “I have seen the sea, and it is no better than what you have found here.” “You have seen the sea!” “Yes. Come close” whispered the tortoise, “and I will tell you a secret. I am not a tortoise. I am a sea turtle. But I left the sea of my own accord many years ago, in search of better things. If you stay with me, I will tell you stories of my adventures.”

The stories of the ancient tortoise were enchanting and soon cast their spell upon the sea lion. As weeks passed into months, his memory of the sea faded. “The desert” whispered the tortoise, “is all that is, or ever will be.” When the sun grew fierce and burned his skin, the sea lion would hide in the shade of the tree, listening to the tales woven by the tortoise. When the dry winds cracked his flippers and filled his eyes with dust, the sea lion would retreat to the water hole. And so the sea lion remained, living his days between water hole and tree. The sea no longer filled his dreams.

It was in May that the winds began to blow. The sea lion had grown used to
wind, and at first he did not pay much heed at all. Years of desert life had taught him to turn his back in the direction from which the wind came and cover his eyes with his flippers so that the dust would not get in. Eventually the wind would always pass.

But not this time. Day and night it came, howling across the barren lands. There was nothing to stop its fury, nothing to even slow it down. For forty days and forty nights the wind blew. And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. The sea lion lifted himself to have a look around. He could hardly believe his eyes.

Every single leaf had been stripped from his tree. The branches that remained, with only a twig or two upon them, looked like an old scarecrow. And I do not need to tell you that there was no longer any shade in which to hide. But worse than this, much worse indeed, was what the sea lion saw next.

The water hole was completely dry.

Three weeks after the wind ceased to blow, the sea lion had a dream. Now as I
told you before, there were other nights which he had dreamed of the sea. But those were long ago and nearly forgotten. Even still the ocean that filled his dreams this night was so beautiful and clear, so vast and deep, it was as if he were seeing it for the first time. The sunlight glittered on its surface, and as he dived, the waters all around him shone like an emerald. If he swam quite deep, it turned to jade, cool and dark and mysterious. But he was never frightened, not at all. For I must tell you that in all his dreams of the sea, he had never before found himself in the company of other sea lions. This night there were many and they, round about him, diving and turning, spinning and twirling. They were playing.

Oh, how he hated to wake from that wonderful dream. The tears running down
his face were the first wet thing he had felt in weeks. But he did not pause even to wipe them away, he did not pause, in fact, for anything at all. He set his face to the east, and he began to walk as best a sea lion can.
“Where are you going?” asked the tortoise...
“I am going to find the sea”


Article by Johnny Bowden, PhD“Recently, I spent the weekend with my brother and his wife, at their lakeside cabin in the mountains of Massachusetts. I arrived late Friday evening after four days of non-stop meetings in Manhattan. The next morning before anyone was up, I got into a kayak and paddled to the center of the lake, and stopped to catch my breath—not so much from the exercise, but from the spectacle of nature. Gazing at the gently rolling hills that framed the lake, watching the water sparkle as the sun climbed higher in the sky, listening to a chorus of birds playing along with the water lapping against the kayak, I was transfixed. The stress I had carried with me from New York, that unsettled feeling of having to tie up loose ends, and a looming book deadline, all seemed inconsequential. I was surveying the big picture, watching the hills turn from green to blue as the clouds rolled by, breathing in pine and fresh water and honeysuckle, and from my perspective, all was right with the world. It struck me that at that moment that there was no place on earth I would rather have been. That was the power of being totally in the present, and it was exhilarating. I paddled back to shore, with my batteries fully recharged. It was so much like “therapy” that it got me wondering if being outdoors has the same effect on other people.
As it turns out, a British mental health organization has recently coined the term “eco-therapy” to describe what they believe should be a frontline treatment modality for a number of mental health problems. Mind, a non-profit agency that dates back the 1940s, has done a substantial amount of research on the connection between health, well being and mother nature. As they define it, eco-therapy can encompass anything from flying a kite to gardening, to taking regular walks, but the exercise must take place in a “green environment”--in other words, a natural setting, one where you can escape office buildings, traffic, and the concrete jungle of stress and responsibilities. The scientists at Mind believe--with quite a bit of research to back them up--that what they call “green exercise” (namely outdoor activities) have profound mental health benefits. In fact, research dating back to at least the 1980’s demonstrates that exposure to the outdoors can have a remarkable effect on variables ranging from depression to energy to concentration.
In one research study, a walk in a country park was compared with a walk inside a mall. By keeping the amount of walking and the level of intensity constant, researchers could identify whether simply being outdoors had any additional benefit to the exercisers, like increasing their energy, their sense of well-being or their overall mood. The results were dramatic. A whopping 71 percent reported feeling better after the “green walk.” And while half the mall-walkers reported increased feelings of tension and 44 percent reported lower feelings of self-esteem, fully 90 percent of the outdoor exercisers reported increased self-esteem after their country walk, and 71 percent said they felt less tense.
One reason for the healing power of green is what’s called the “restorative effect”. “There are actually two different restorative effects,” said Stephen Kaplan, PhD, of the University of Michigan, and one of the leading researchers in the field. “One is the reduction of stress which can be seen in measurably lower levels of stress hormones like cortisol. The other is recovery from mental fatigue.”
Stress is one of the biggest energy-robbers on the planet. But what to do about it? Sometimes the answer is as simple as opening the front door. At a time when our rural areas represent a smaller proportion of our environment than ever before, and prescription antidepressants represent a multi-billion dollar industry, “green activities” may be the ultimate definition of a “natural” cure for low energy.
In a second similar study, 94 percent of subjects reported that “green activities” had benefited their mental health, including generating the feeling of lifted depression. Ninety percent felt it was the combination of exercise together with nature that was responsible for the effect. Typical comments included: “I feel better about myself and have a sense of achievement." and “I am more relaxed, have better focus of mind, greater coordination and greater self-esteem.”

The research is clear--green is golden, and nature lifts your mood as it decreases stress.”
Jonny Bowden, PhD, is a best-selling author, sought after speaker and a nationally-recognized expert in nutrition, weight-loss and fitness. This article was adapted from The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Life is uncertain. As you close one chapter in your lifebook and open a new one, I want to give you a gift. This is a letter to you, Sarah. It’s a list of 10 things I hope you will remember in the days and years ahead. These are like suggestions, or maybe principles that can help you live a fulfilling and beneficial life. With that preface, here goes.

Dear Sarah,
I’d like to pass along a few thoughts to you about living a good life. I hope somehow these thoughts will stay with you even when I cannot.

1. Remember that life is not about you.
This is a hard thing to remember, especially since, there is no experience we’ve had that we were not the absolute center of. Even so, resist the temptation to think life is about you. Take time to look upward at the night sky, especially the exquisite planet Saturn, a sight almost too good to be true. Look beyond Saturn to the other planets and stars in our Milky Way galaxy. Scientists think there may be 10,000 civilizations at our level of technological advancement in the Milky Way galaxy alone. And look beyond our home galaxy to the magnificent sight of Andromeda, 2 million light years away and our nearest neighbor of the 125 billion galaxies in the universe. Whatever this is all about, it’s not mainly about you.

Also, take time to look outward. Of the nearly 7 billion people on planet Earth, you are one of the most fortunate ones: well-fed, well-clothed, well-housed, well-educated, and well-loved. If the primal urge that animates life on this planet is the desire merely to survive, the concern that dominates most people’s daily lives has bypassed you. You have done nothing to deserve this favored treatment. You’ve been lucky, that’s all, and for reasons not of your own making. Remember: life is not about you.

2. Never forget that life is all about you.
Jesus once said, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” When it comes to confronting the global challenges of this generation, relatively few young people in the world can make the kind of difference you can make. You possess or have ready access to everything you need to help people whose lives are ravaged by poverty, disease, oppression, and violence. The problems of the world are your problems, and the quality of life on our planet in upcoming years will be about you—your commitments, your choices, and your actions. Never forget that life—your life and all of life—is about you and the difference you make.

3. Relationships of necessity will forge your character.
Some of the most important relationships in your life are ones that you did not choose. You did not choose your mother or your father. You also did not choose your stepmother. Though all of us love you deeply, none of us is perfect, and there are doubtless things you would change about each of us. Nonetheless, these and other relationships of necessity—with teachers, classmates, colleagues, and bosses, among others—pose an essential test of your character. Will your relationship with these people be framed by their limitations or by your aspirations? You may not have chosen someone’s presence in your life, and you may not be able to change their personality, but you can determine your attitude and your approach toward them. The way you deal with relationships of necessity will forge your character.

4. Relationships of choice will determine your destiny.
Someone once said that we become the average of the five people with whom we spend the most time. Increasingly for you, these five will be relationships not of necessity, but of choice. Choose wisely and well. Some people will bring out the worst in you, or what is more likely, will make you feel all right about being second-rate and mediocre. Others will help you become first-rate, even better than you would be on your own. Continue to surround yourself with the best friends and colleagues you can find: you’ve made excellent choices thus far. Your relationships of choice will determine your destiny.

5. Mastery will give you a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Sigmund Freud identified love and work as the twin pillars of human endeavor. By love he meant relationships that give us a sense of wholeness and belonging, and by work he meant pursuits that give us a sense of competence and completion. It takes time and devotion to master anything worthwhile, whether it’s playing the piano, baking a soufflé, teaching organic chemistry, negotiating a corporate merger, or navigating your way around the night sky. Today, we expect things to happen quickly, even instantly. Good things almost never do. They take time. Cultivate the pleasure of anticipation; develop the discipline of a long commitment in the same direction. Master at least a couple of things—one that will earn you a livelihood and another that gives you pleasure despite its lack of economic value.

6. Being a dilettante will give you a sense of playfulness and wonder.
The secret to a satisfying life is having the discipline to do a few things well and the courage to do a lot of things badly. If you’re going to have any fun in life, you have to be willing to make a fool out of yourself from time to time. Otherwise, you’ll take yourself too seriously, and all manner of bad things will happen as a result. I realize that when I walk down the street singing a tune from Wicked or Mama Mia or even a popular one from the radio, it’s more entertaining to me than it is to you. Even so, remember to lighten up once in a while. Make a mess of something. Be a dilettante, a dabbler, an amateur. If you don’t, your life will soon become risk-free and insipid. People will start yawning when you approach, and dogs will fall asleep. Always keep in touch with your inner kindergartener. Nurture a sense of playfulness and wonder.

7. Open yourself to the kindness of strangers.
You will need the help and support of many people in your life, most of whom you haven’t met yet. You don’t even know who they are. Make certain, however, that you watch for them and welcome them when they show up. People who are complete strangers to you today might be close friends in a few months, key classmates in a couple of years, and vital business colleagues in a decade or two. They’ll never have a chance to join your team unless you’re open to their presence and their kindness. Give people a chance to show up for you. Keep your mind and heart open to the kindness of strangers.

8. Protect yourself from the brutality of friends.
The odds are overwhelming that if you suffer physical or emotional violence in your life, it will come at the hands of someone you know. Of course, you should also protect yourself from the brutality of strangers, but you already know how to do that, and it’s often easier to see those dangers lurking. The brutality of friends is more difficult to defend against. A classmate who betrays a sensitive confidence, a date who violates the intimacy limit you’ve set, a spouse who treats you in a humiliating and degrading way—these situations pose a mortal danger to your long-term physical and emotional health. The question isn’t whether you’ll know what you should do, but whether you’ll be immobilized by the bonds of friendship and commitment. Remember that any relationship based on physical or emotional brutality isn’t worth saving. You are worth saving. Protect yourself, and if need be, save yourself from the brutality of friends.

9. The experience of beauty will connect you with what endures.
You have the good fortune of being surrounded by beauty. Our home, while not grand or lavish, is a place of modest beauty. We also live near museums and concert halls, which we will enjoy whenever possible. We are blessed to have beautiful mountains and clear rivers right at our back door. Beauty in all its forms is important—but not only because beautiful things look and sound better than ugly things. Remember however, that beauty has built-in consequences. The consequences are best captured in our language by a single word, fairness, which refers both to the loveliness of a face and to the ethical requirement to be fair, play fair, or distribute fairly. Beauty issues a call to those who encounter it; it creates a covenant with those who experience it. It is a call to symmetry and equality—not just in music and art, but also in our relations with each other and with our world. Beauty is a call to be just.

10. The presence of ugliness will remind you of what needs to be transformed.
A famous artist once said that he wanted his paintings to be so beautiful that when one came upon them, all problems would subside. The experience of beauty makes problems go away, in two senses. At its most powerful, beauty transfixes and transforms us. The same emotion that stirs your soul when you listen to the brilliant notes of classical music of Bach or Beethoven should also stir your soul in as deep an emotion when looking at a world where so many children have so little hope. To be stopped short by the simple calm of a rolling meadow at dawn or a willow pond at dusk is to recognize that violence has no place in human relations. To be captivated by the elegance of the most beautiful ball gown or a Van Gogh painting is to know the obscene calamity that hunger and poverty represent. To be riveted by the sight of an exuberantly colored butterfly is to know that we must stand strong against those who would crush the fragile and oppress the weak. Pay attention to ugliness everywhere you find it. Ugliness will remind you of what needs to be transformed.

I have two more things to add. They’re not on the list because they are far too important. Your integrity: being honest with yourself and truthful with other people. Life is a lot simpler when the person you are to yourself is the person you are to everyone else. It may at times seem otherwise, but if you begin adjusting the facts to create a façade, people will eventually discover that you’re a phony. You don’t need to say everything you know—please don’t. But always know that what you say is true. Ride your integrity like the wind.

My final note is about gratitude, which we've talked about a lot over the years. It is the key to a well-lived life. A discipline of gratitude constantly recognizes the truth about our lives: we are utterly dependent upon the sources that make our lives possible, from the sun and the seas, to parents and plants, as well as invertebrates, instructors, and the ionosphere. Remember to say thank you. An ethic of gratitude works for a future in which all relationships—among humans, as well as between humans and the physical world—are fair, constructive, and beautiful. Remember to do your part to nurture the world that nurtures you in return.

I love you very much, and I’m proud of you. I’m grateful that I’m your mother. For me, this is a Happy Day. Love, Momma

A sermon preached by Galen Guengerich All Souls Unitarian Church, New York City June 21, 2009 (I loved it so much I thought you would benefit from his wisdom.)