The Complexities of Hope
Hope has been a topic of contemplation for humans for millennia. The Greek philosopher Aristotle observed that “Hope is a waking dream” and the Roman philosopher Cicero noted, “While there’s life, there’s hope.” Here in the 21st century, hope is sometimes treated as a panacea and sometimes viewed as an object of scorn. Let’s investigate the complexities of hope and see what we uncover.
Starring in One's Own Life
On Sunday, February 22nd, the 2015 Academy Awards will be presented. When many of us were younger, we imagined one day receiving an Oscar—or perhaps it was a Tony or Grammy or Emmy that we coveted. Such an award would seem to signify that we had attained star status. But what if we don’t need these types of external accolades to star in our own lives? This month, let’s take a look at what it means to star in one’s own life and at how we might go about doing this.
When we visualize “being stuck,” a number of different images might come to mind. At this time of year, we might picture being stuck in a car in the snow. Or we might imagine being stuck in a rut or groove, just doing the same thing over and over. And sometimes, when we feel stuck in a situation, we may picture ourselves “boxed in” by our circumstances.
All of these images conjure up a feeling of being trapped or caught, whether it’s in the snow, in a rut or in a box. So when we’re feeling stuck, we may be longing for a greater sense of freedom in our lives. This month let’s delve into the concept of “being stuck” and consider some steps we can take to free ourselves.
How would you define “mindfulness”? For many of us, our response to that question would probably be something like “paying attention to the present moment.” That concept is at the core of mindfulness, but there is definitely more to it. Let’s explore the meaning of “mindfulness” this month and look at how we might cultivate it.
The Many Facets of "Thank You"
When you study a foreign language, one of the first things you learn is how to say “thank you.” It’s one of the most basic phrases, along with “hello” and “goodbye.” Though it seems simple, ”thank you” has numerous intriguing facets. This month let’s take a look at those facets. Along the way, we’ll find out that there’s scientific evidence that expressing thanks more often can actually improve our well-being.
Procrastination and Planning
Sometimes, procrastination pays off. This would seem to go against popular wisdom—it feels like we always hear that procrastination is a negative thing. But it turns out that, some of the time, that’s not true.
There are actually a number of ways to define “procrastinate.” Let’s consider a definition from Merriam-Webster: “to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.” A key word in that definition is “should.” Who determines what “should” be done and when? Exactly how is it determined when something “should” be done?
Peace of Mind
At a panel discussion in Wisconsin last year, the Dalai Lama remarked, “Everybody wants a happy life and a peaceful mind, but we have to produce peace of mind through our own practice.” Just what do we mean when we say “peace of mind”? And how might we cultivate it through practice? This month, let’s investigate these questions and see what we find.
Being and Doing
When you have a crowded "To Do" list, it can be hard to let yourself take a break. Even during the summer—a time of year we’ve associated with “vacation” since we were kids—it can be tough to allow ourselves enough time for rest and relaxation.
Summer does seem like a particularly good season in which to reflect on the value of slowing down. In our day-to-day lives, there can seem to be so much emphasis placed on tasks and accomplishments. “Doing” seems to get so much attention. But we need to remember that we are human beings, and that “being” in and of itself is hugely important.
Ways to Pay Attention
The ways in which we pay attention to the world around us have an important impact on how we experience life. Some people, as they go about their daily lives, readily notice what is right or wrong in a situation. Some folks may frequently scan their environment for threats to their well-being. And some may habitually focus on what’s missing in their lives.
Understanding our own habits of paying attention can help us to better comprehend our own behavior. It can also help us to make wiser choices in the future. If we can increase our understanding of how others pay attention, we might be able to better comprehend the sometimes perplexing behavior of other people.
What do Wikipedia, non-commercial blogs and online product reviews by consumers have in common? In each case, the contributor is creating or editing content and sharing the result without being paid for it. On Wikipedia, volunteers generate or modify entries on a wide range of subjects; on non-commercial blogs, individuals can share their experiences, projects, views and all manner of creative content; and product reviews (including dining and travel reviews) by customers are posted online so others can benefit from the experiences of the reviewers.
Naturally, the usefulness and quality of such material can vary greatly. Some of it is just plain inaccurate and some of it just represents a form of venting that is not helpful to the rest of us. That said, what is striking is that a fair amount of such material does have some value, and the provider of the content spent time and effort on it without being paid. In many cases, the contributor to Wikipedia, the non-commercial blogger and the product reviewer are giving their time and effort freely in the hopes of benefiting people they’ll never meet.
Twenty Questions Times Five
In the February issue of Blue River Monthly, there’s a reference in "The Importance of Your Questions" to an exercise involving 100 questions that you’d like to have answered. It was promised in that article that the value of such an exercise would be discussed in a future article. This month we’ll explore the process of asking yourself 100 questions and see how it can be a useful tool.
This exercise comes from the book, How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci, by Michael J. Gelb. In this intriguing book, Gelb considers seven principles that were important to da Vinci. He also supplies exercises for the reader that are related to those principles.
Reading as Meditation
Have you thought about giving meditation a try, but haven’t gotten around to it? Or perhaps you’ve meditated in the past, but not recently? Although traditional meditation can be very beneficial, sometimes it can seem too daunting or too time-consuming. It turns out that many activities can be done as a form of meditation, including walking, listening to music, writing in a journal and reading. This month let’s take a look at various aspects of reading as meditation.
There is a long history of reading sacred texts for purposes such as centering one’s self and calming one’s mind. In addition to such texts, nowadays there are numerous types of books that can be used for reflective purposes. See the list of recommended books in this issue of Blue River Monthly for some suggestions.
Power of Three
If we look around, we’ll notice that items grouped in threes shape our lives in various ways. We generally think of our days in three parts: morning, afternoon and evening. Many of us have three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. And our perception of the physical world occurs in three dimensions: height, width and depth.
Numbers such as one, two, four, five and ten have importance in our daily lives, too. But in recognition of the third month of the year, let’s focus on the power of the number three.
We’ll investigate the power of three by looking at it through three different lenses: popular culture, a scientific angle and the big picture.
The Importance of Your Questions
Throughout our lives, we ask ourselves questions. What career do I want to pursue? Where do I want to live? When will I retire?
Naturally, there tends to be a lot of emphasis put on the answers to such questions. As a result, we can be in a rush to get to an answer to a question—any answer—and we can neglect the importance of the question itself. It matters which questions you ask, how you ask them, and which ones you choose to answer.
Resolved: Find New Ways to Think about Weight
One year ago this month, an article that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association challenged the ideas that many of us have about weight and health. The article presented an analysis of a large number of studies involving weight and risk of dying—the analysis found that, during the average study period, the risk of dying was actually 6 percent lower for people classified as overweight than it was for those classified in the “normal weight” category. And people classified as mildly obese were not more likely to die than those whose weight was deemed to be normal. That article caused quite a stir. Twelve months later, we are once again starting a new year and millions of Americans are making resolutions about weight loss. Before beginning another diet, let’s stop and consider that it might be very helpful to find new ways to think about weight.