All The Good Things

All The Good Things
He was in the first third grade class I taught at Saint Mary’s School in Morris, Minnesota. All 34 of my students were dear to me, but Mark Eklund was one in a million. [He was] very neat in appearance but had that happy-to-be-alive attitude that made even his occasional mischievousness delightful.

Mark talked incessantly. I had to remind him again and again that talking without permission was not acceptable. What impressed me so much, though, was his sincere response every time I had to correct him for misbehaving: “Thank you for correcting me, Sister!” I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but before long I became accustomed to hearing it many times a day.

One morning my patience was growing thin when Mark talked once too often, and then I made a novice teacher’s mistake. I looked at him and said, “If you say one more word, I am going to tape your mouth shut!”

It wasn’t ten seconds later when Chuck blurted out, “Mark is talking again.” I hadn’t asked any of the students to help me watch Mark, but since I had stated the punishment in front of the class, I had to act on it.

I remember the scene as if it had occurred this morning. I walked to my desk, very deliberately opened my drawer and took out a roll of masking tape. Without saying a word, I proceeded to Mark’s desk, tore off two pieces of tape and made a big X with them over his mouth. I then returned to the front of the room. As I glanced at Mark to see how he was doing, he winked at me. That did it! I started laughing. The class cheered as I walked back to Mark’s desk, removed the tape and shrugged my shoulders. His first words were, “Thank you for correcting me, Sister.”

At the end of the year I was asked to teach junior high math. The years flew by, and before I knew it Mark was in my classroom again. He was more handsome than ever and just as polite. Since he had to listen carefully to my instructions in the “new math,” he did not talk as much in ninth grade as he had in the third.

One Friday, things just didn’t feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were frowning, frustrated with themselves — and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down. It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, and as the students left the room, each one handed me the papers. Charlie smiled. Mark said, “Thank you for teaching me, Sister. Have a good weekend.”

That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper, and I listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday I gave each student his or her list. Before long, the entire class was smiling. “Really?” I heard whispered. “I never knew that meant anything to anyone!” “I didn’t know others liked me so much!” No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.

That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I returned from vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home, Mother asked me the usual questions about the trip — the weather, my experiences in general. There was a light lull in the conversation. Mother gave Dad a sideways glance and simply said, “Dad?”

My father cleared his throat as he usually did before something important. “The Eklunds called last night,” he began.

“Really?” I said. “I haven’t heard from them in years. I wonder how Mark is.”

Dad responded quietly. “Mark was killed in Vietnam,” he said. “The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend.” To this day I can still point to the exact spot on I-494 where Dad told me about Mark.

I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. Mark looked so handsome, so mature. All I could think at that moment was, Mark, I would give all the masking tape in the world if only you would talk to me. The church was packed with Mark’s friends. Chuck’s sister sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the graveside. The pastor said the usual prayers, and the bugler played taps. One by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin and sprinkled it with holy water.

I was the last one to bless the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who had acted as pallbearer came up to me. “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. “Mark talked about you a lot,” he said.

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. “We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.”

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him.

“Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

Mark’s classmates started to gather around us.

Charlie smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.”

Chuck’s wife said, “Chuck asked me to put this in our wedding album.”

“I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary.”

Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times,” Vicki said, without batting an eyelash. “I think we all saved our lists.”

That’s when I finally sat down and cried. I cried for Mark and for all his friends who would never see him again.

Credit: Sister Helen P. Mrosla. Sister Helen Mrosla, a Franciscan nun, submitted “All the Good Things” to Proteus, A Journal of Ideas in 1991. Her article also appeared in Reader’s Digest that same year, was reprinted in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book in 1993, and was offered yet again in 1996′s Stories for the Heart.

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Effortless Love

Effortless Love


Love is the most difficult thing you will ever do
Yet love is the most effortless thing in this world.

There is no doubt that love is difficult. Just look around and see the heartache all around you. But it is also true that love is effortless. It arises spontaneously without any effort and it fills our lives with magnificence.

So how can we have two contradictory statements existing side by side? How can love be effortless and difficult at the same time?

Love is effortless because love is the language of the soul. It flows effortlessly into our lives if we allow it to do so.

Love is difficult because we have an ego and we dance to its tune. It is no use wishing away the ego. It governs our lives and understanding this simple fact can make a huge difference. Ego is the elephant we are riding. It goes where it wants and leaves a trail of destruction behind it, all we do is “justify” its actions after the fact.

The key to effortless love are the following six points:

1. Acknowledge the elephant – “Why am I doing this?” is a question to ask yourself all the time. The honest answer to this may be “Because I am hurt” Once we realize that our actions are governed by our desire to assuage the ego’s hurt feelings, or to seek attention, or to seek retribution, we can gain perspective. It becomes easier to step back and say to ourselves, “Maybe I should shut up, this is not so important after all!”

2. Dismount the elephant – The single most important thing we can do with our lives is to stop the ego from running it. It is possible to dismount the elephant, but we must understand that the prerequisite for this is love. The ground that you land on after getting off the elephant is love. This means both partners have to dismount their egos simultaneously. It does not work if only one does it.

3. Simplify life – The biggest enemy of love is stress. It prevents us from thinking clearly and understanding our priorities. Remember that it is the ego that is driving us to take on too much. It seeks attention and fame and fuels our ambition. But at all times we have to ask ourselves: “Is this really important?” It is only love that makes us happy. So all our effort should be in this direction. Instead we run in the opposite direction at the calling of our ego. It may be time to stop and radically simplify life.

4. Be faithful – A common trick the ego uses to sabotage love is it guiles us into being unfaithful. The answer to this is to remain super vigilant. Nip things in the bud and do not encourage any thought and behavior that takes you down the slippery slope. Even entertaining a fantasy or a thought is dangerous. It always starts with a “harmless thought”, so when such a thought arises you must immediately discard it. The entire house of cards can come crashing down with one senseless act. There is no room for error here so all the caution is fully warranted.

5. Make space for love – Love is extraordinarily easy if you make space for it. The moment you take away your focus from “me thoughts” you create space for love to bloom. “Me thoughts” are thoughts coming from the ego about its need for attention, retribution, and defense. Forgiveness is key. Letting go of past hurts and grievances is extraordinarily important. This creates the space in our lives for love to bloom. We forgive for our sake. It is the biggest gift we can give ourselves.

6. Dial Yoga for love – The single biggest secret of yoga is that it is a great antidote for the ego. Yoga decompresses our lives by relieving it from stress. Once this happens the “fog lifts” and we can take back control of our lives from our ego. We learn to step back from blowing up silly things that would normally cause us to be angry or bitter. With the ego defanged, love blooms. It helps if both partners practice yoga.

“I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument
while the song I came to sing remains unsung.” – Rabindranath Tagore

We are here to sing the song of love, yet we remain captives to tuning our lives to our egos. Let us resolve to free ourselves from the burden of our ego and sing the song of love we are meant to sing.

Related:
Five Key Insights To Master Love
Is It Possible To Find Love Through Yoga?
Empty Boat
What Is Truly Important?
The Scorpion And The Saint

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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Close Encounter Of The Rarest Kind

In the above video, notice that Robin Williams made Koko smile — something she hadn’t done for over 6 months, ever since her lifelong gorilla companion, Michael, passed away at the age of 27. But not only did Robin cheer up Koko, the effect was mutual, and Robin seemed transformed — from a high-energy entertainer, into a mellow, sensitive, empathetic guy, who also just happened to be really funny. Robin Williams and Koko bonded that day and Koko never forgot the encounter.

On Monday, Aug. 11 2014, the day news broke of Williams’ passing, Koko overheard conversations about the news. She inquired with Dr. Patterson who explained to her what had happened. Koko became quiet and looked very thoughtful. Eventually as the news sank in Koko signed “CRY”. By the end of the day Koko became somber with her head bowed and her lips quivering.

Koko and Robin William’s friendship shows the magic that happens when we treat animals as our equals and partners, and give them our undivided love and attention.

More details at the: Gorilla Foundation.

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She Taught Me Love

She Taught Me Love

In a moving, handwritten letter addressed to her fans, Fiona Apple announced, in November of 2012, that she was postponing the South American leg of her tour due to the ill-health of her beloved pit bull, Janet, a 13-year-old rescue dog suffering from Addison’s disease:

It’s 6pm on Friday, and I’m writing to a few thousand friends I have not met yet. I’m writing to ask them to change our plans and meet a little while later.

Here’s the thing.

I have a dog, Janet, and she’s been ill for about 2 years now, as a tumor has been idling in her chest, growing ever so slowly. She’s almost 14 years old now. I got her when she was 4 months old. I was 21 then — an adult, officially — and she was my kid.

She is a pitbull, and was found in Echo Park, with a rope around her neck, and bites all over her ears and face.

She was the one the dogfighters use to puff up the confidence of the contenders.

She’s almost 14 and I’ve never seen her start a fight, or bite, or even growl, so I can understand why they chose her for that awful role. She’s a pacifist.

Janet has been the most consistent relationship of my adult life, and that is just a fact. We’ve lived in numerous houses, and joined a few makeshift families, but it’s always really been just the two of us.

She slept in bed with me, her head on the pillow, and she accepted my hysterical, tearful face into her chest, with her paws around me, every time I was heartbroken, or spirit-broken, or just lost, and as years went by, she let me take the role of her child, as I fell asleep, with her chin resting above my head.

She was under the piano when I wrote songs, barked any time I tried to record anything, and she was in the studio with me, all the time we recorded the last album.

The last time I came back from tour, she was spry as ever, and she’s used to me being gone for a few weeks, every 6 or 7 years.

She has Addison’s Disease, which makes it more dangerous for her to travel, since she needs regular injections of Cortisol, because she reacts to stress and excitement without the physiological tools which keep most of us from literally panicking to death.

Despite all this, she’s effortlessly joyful & playful, and only stopped acting like a puppy about 3 years ago. She is my best friend, and my mother, and my daughter, my benefactor, and she’s the one who taught me what love is.

I can’t come to South America. Not now. When I got back from the last leg of the US tour, there was a big, big difference.

She doesn’t even want to go for walks anymore.

I know that she’s not sad about aging or dying. Animals have a survival instinct, but a sense of mortality and vanity, they do not. That’s why they are so much more present than people.

But I know she is coming close to the time where she will stop being a dog, and start instead to be part of everything. She’ll be in the wind, and in the soil, and the snow, and in me, wherever I go.

I just can’t leave her now, please understand. If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out.

Sometimes it takes me 20 minutes just to decide what socks to wear to bed.

But this decision is instant.

These are the choices we make, which define us. I will not be the woman who puts her career ahead of love & friendship.

I am the woman who stays home, baking Tilapia for my dearest, oldest friend. And helps her be comfortable & comforted & safe & important.

Many of us these days, we dread the death of a loved one. It is the ugly truth of Life that keeps us feeling terrified & alone. I wish we could also appreciate the time that lies right beside the end of time. I know that I will feel the most overwhelming knowledge of her, and of her life and of my love for her, in the last moments.

I need to do my damnedest, to be there for that.

Because it will be the most beautiful, the most intense, the most enriching experience of life I’ve ever known.

When she dies.

So I am staying home, and I am listening to her snore and wheeze, and I am revelling in the swampiest, most awful breath that ever emanated from an angel. And I’m asking for your blessing.

I’ll be seeing you.

Love,

Fiona

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Nine Ways To Avoid A Heart Attack

Heart Attack

Heart attack is now better understood as a symptom of widespread inflammation within our body. This inflammation happens for various reasons: Widespread presence of added sugar in our diet, GMO foods introducing unknown proteins in our diet, and also the emotional clogging of our systems due to stress. Here are nine tips to avoid heart attacks:

1. Go to a “zero sugar” diet. Sugar is not just a problem for diabetics. Its pervasive presence in our diet has now turned it into an inflammatory agent. In 1800s we were consuming less than 10 pounds of sugar per year. Today we consume more than 100 pounds! Sugar clogs up our livers causing inflammation in our bodies.

2. Eat whole, fresh, organic, and balanced food. If you must consume animal protein then make sure that it comes from grass fed and farm raised source. Otherwise it is inflammatory. Avoid GMO food. Some of our GMO foods are “engineered” so that they become pest resistant. This happens by introducing genes in the food that produce proteins that bugs do not like. Guess what happens when our bodies have to deal with these proteins? Sometimes these become source of inflammation in our bodies.

3. Get your sun. Get 10 to 30 minutes of daily exposure to the sun. You want direct exposure on the skin without intervening glass. Direct exposure to sun rays reduces blood pressure, softens arteries, improves mood, produces Vitamin D and other hormones that are vital for our well being.

4. Forgive. Keeping score and an inventory of hurts is dangerous for your heart. It is best to let go and move on.

5. De-stress: Stress is toxic for your heart. Do yoga. See funny movies. Stay in touch with loved ones and friends. Watch comedy shows. Laugh. Meditate. Do Pranayama (Breathing exercises) that slows and elongates breath.

6. Sleep well. Sleep is a de-stressor and detoxifier. Get at least 7-8 hours sleep. Doze off at noon if you can.

7. Stay active and walk a lot. Always keep in mind that walking is the elixir of life.

8. Avoid animal protein cooked at high temperature. Animal protein when cooked at high temperature leads to what are known as “Glycated end products”. These are inflammatory, lead to hardening of cell walls and arteries, and generally gumming up the system. Glycation is reduced when cooking temperature is reduced and by adding ingredients like vinegar and lemon juice.

9. Enjoy life. Lighten up. Be around fun people and be fun to be with. Enjoy your work. Lead a social life meeting people and remaining engaged in causes that are bigger than us.

As you put these things into practice you will find that this is not really about avoiding heart attack but instead about living heartily.

Credits:This has been written by Raj Shah and edited by Ketna Shah.

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