50 Ways to Boost Self Awareness

Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got. Janis Joplin

Be Mindful

Express Gratitude every day

Resist being a perfectionist

Forgive others

Think abundantly

Stay motivated

Increase concentration

Still the mind

Exercise patience

Gain from other cultures

Look towards the heavens

Open your heart to new experiences

Grow through adversity

Don’t follow the crowd

Embrace your imperfections (wabi-sabi of the soul)

Live compassionately

Create a vision for yourself

Make time for doing nothing

Get outside in nature

Attend to your mental activity

Grow and care for something

Cultivate wonder

Integrate breathing exercises into your daily life

Awaken to the day

Focus on transitions

Prompt your mindfulness as needed

Ease up on yourself

Remind yourself of your motivations

Increase awareness of the wider view

Stop and smell the flowers along the way

Let your mind wander

Know thyself

At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want. – LaoZi (Lao Tzu)

Know your strengths

Listen to feedback

Appreciate your intuition

Identify your triggers

Practice self-discipline

Discover your physical limits

Find your emotional kryptonite

Clarify your values

Keep an open mind

Revisit your values

Embody your beliefs

Change habits that limit your growth

Embrace diversity of opinion

Build personal space into your home

Honor your self-development

Increase self-confidence

Take some psychometric tests

Talk with trusted friends

Center your spirit on kindness

Bolster your self-esteem

My New Book is now available on Amazon

A travel companion on the spiritual journey of aging Boomers.

As the70 million Baby Boomers exit the workforce, many of the formerly work-focused Boomer generation undergo a very personal spiritual journey as they seek to make peace with their past. If they are lucky Boomers will meet the Boomer Whisperer along the way. From his spiritual mountain retreat, the Boomer Whisperer offers a sympathetic ear and metaphysical guidance to those Boomers who seek him out. As we mature, many of us ache to fulfill youthful promises, and no matter how much time has past, we can always honor old friends and reveal our true selves in the process. Follow the journey of the Boomer Whisperer and rekindle the free spirit residing within you.

Street Photography in China

Everything that is visible hides something that is invisible.Renee Magritte

I have been sorting through my photographs of China from 2003-2019. My first visit to China, I went to Beijing in July, 2003 – just after the WHO cleared the city for international travel after SARS. I want to share a few of my impressions and some street photography with you. According to Wikipedia: Street photography, also sometimes called candid photography, is photography conducted for art or inquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.

The street photographer can be seen as an extension of the flâneur, an observer of the streets (who was often a writer or artist).

It saddens me to read news of attacks on Asian people in America. At the same time, some blowhard media cesspools sputter out couched racism as if it is news. All these currents of negative energy throw shadows across the souls of too many people. We all are unique collections of culture, beliefs, experiences, millions of memories, and so much more. The photo above is a split second in a scene of farewell in the countryside of China. The group is waiting for a bus outside a village. The ubiquitous red/blue and white “workers’ luggage” at their feet is jammed with essential belongings. The van to the right is a countryside taxi. There is a small vegetable garden behind the ladies. These gardens are everywhere in China. This blink of an eye scene could take place anywhere in the world. Many of us have experienced such moments.

Here are a few scenes from Beijing in 2003. The city changed enormously for the 2008 Olympics and since that time.

My first day in China, I was stuck in the Forbidden City waiting for the rain to stop. Happily, I met a very friendly man who was a high school physics teacher. He had his twin son and daughter and his younger sister – Yanhua – with him. We had a nice chat for fifteen minutes. The little kids thought my camera was pretty funny. I met many warmhearted people in Beijing.

This marvelous family is from the province of Inner Mongolia. The father was a rancher, and he gave me a powerful hug. They had never met a foreigner before, and were especially happy to know I was an American. The daughter was in high school and wanted to practice her English with me. We had a very nice conversation.

I was invited to join a school outing at a commune on the Yellow Sea in Nan Dai Hu. The kids had a great time beating me at ping pong 🙂 The parents were very kind and Teacher Ping was a very impressive teacher who taught herself how to adapt her lessons for the Internet to teach – via email and BBS, during the SARS pandemic.

This is one of my favorite photographs of China. This is the road that runs along the west of the Zhang Nan Hai government compound. Back then there were much fewer cars and millions of bicycles. This was before China became the economic powerhouse it is today.

Bicycle parking lot. I really enjoyed seeing so many bicyclists. To this day, I still don’t know how people remember where they parked. Maybe the attendant reminds them.

This is out by Deshengmen Gate. I walked everywhere in the city. This day I think I walked 6-8 miles from my hotel to the Ancient Coin Market, which is in that ancient gate in the distance. This is near the 2nd Ring Road, which these days is packed with millions of cars. Personal vehicles were less common back then.

I took a photograph of this sign to remember my first encounter with locals on the street. On my first day in China, I was trying to figure out how to cross the street near the Forbidden City. There are fences on both sides of the broad street, and no crosswalks. An older man on a bicycle watched me for a minute as I paced back and forth. He said something in Chinese and repeatedly made a swooping gesture with his hand. Then he pointed at the sign. There was an underpass for pedestrians. I said xie xie (shay shay) – thanks and went about my exploring. I have to say it once again, the people of China were warmhearted to me. And as I became more familiar I learned how to ease through the streets and become part of what I call Everyday China.

Back in 2003, there were growing signs of affluence in the big cities of China. Pizza Hut was a luxury which I took advantage of on several occasions when I lived in China.

I will be posting more of my street photography in China, starting with when I moved there in 2007 and was a magazine and newspaper editor and university lecturer.

Be kind to one another and accept the people you meet every day as a unique expression of humanity – just like you. Peace.

Memorial Day 2021

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words, but to live by them. John F. Kennedy

Today is Memorial Day in the US. Officially the holiday honors those who died while serving in the military. My family always honored all the deceased veterans in our family on this day. Although members of my family fought for the country in every war going back to the Revolution, none of them died in combat. Each and every one of them made it back home. Since my Dad died last year this year is the first year my family will honor my Dad on Memorial Day. When he was alive, he would joke whenever someone wished him a “Happy Memorial Day”, saying, “Wait until I am dead, and there’s not much that’s happy on Memorial Day”. So this Memorial Day I celebrate my World War Two hero father, my uncles, my cousins, my best friend, my grandpa, my great-grandfathers, my great-great-grandfather and all those who served in the military.

Today though I want to honor four great women who waited for the soldiers and sailors to return. Let me start with one of my Great-Great Grandmothers. My great-great-grandfather George Washington Barlow fought in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was wounded in his right shoulder in battle. He was stitched up and sent back into combat. In fact his father, also served as a muleskinner. His wife Harriet waited for him to return, along with her three brothers, and many cousins.

My maternal grandmother waited for my grandfather to return home from World War One (his photo is at the top). He fought in the brutal trench warfare and was hit with mustard gas twice. He survived the war and came home to my grandmother. He became a coal miner and sharecropper. This is a photo of my mom as a baby less than two years after the end of WWI. My grandfather died from spinal meningitis. He caught the disease from a young boy who he helped. My grandmother later remarried, and my Papa served in World War Two also. My grandmother had two sons who served in World War Two. My Uncle Fred was a spotter for half-tracks and landed just a couple days after D-Day. He was in the Battle of the Bulge, liberated a concentration camp, and received the Bronze Star for heroism. My Uncle Fran was in the 101st Airborne. He was injured while parachuting and was forever mentally nineteen years old.

My Grandmother Wheeler was an incredible woman. My God I loved to talk with her, and listen to her tell stories. She had a hard life in the beginning. She gave birth to ten children but three died as infants and a fourth little girl died at six years old from contaminated well water. Grandma sent four sons to World War Two. She waited at home to hear from all of them. She told me she used to pray every night before going to bed, asking God to protect them. She prayed again in the morning that she would not get the much feared bad news of their death. My Uncle Sam was a medic on Iwo Jima. Uncle Curt was a Navy Chief who served with the Marines on Saipan, and helped evacuate wounded on several islands. Uncle Butch was a Navy cook. And my Dad was highly decorated for his heroic service in the Pacific War. Grandma welcomed each one of her boys back home to this house, in the photo. This was the nexus for all the men who served and all the women who waited for them to return.

I wanted to include a little shopping list from my fantastic Grandma. She was a strong woman. She drank Sunny Brook Kentucky bourbon every day, smoked Lucky Strikes and ate bacon for nearly every meal. I would cut her grass for her in the summer, and stop afterwards to enjoy an ice cold Coke, and swat flies for her as she told me stories.

And my beloved mother. My mom saw how her veteran father was mistreated by the government after the war. Her first husband was an officer in the Navy. She lived on base in Pensacola at the beginning of the war. Many badly wounded sailors would be rehabilitated there. Each day my mom would take some of those terribly maimed men fishing. She would bait their hooks for them and help them land the fish. Her beautiful smile and sweet nature must have the best medicine for those wounded sailors. She divorced that guy during the war, because of his abuse. She met my Dad after the war. The curly haired sailor boy was quite a dashing manly guy. But his mind was branded by the grisly scenes and gruesome images of war. The horror of war was burned deep into his spirit. Mom told me he often woke up in the middle of the night suffering sweaty nightmares. My wonderful Mom soothed his psychological wounds and loved the old man to the day she died. She used to bring flowers to all the graves on Memorial Day – her father’s, her uncles’, her brother’s, her cousin’s.

I like to think of my Mom and Dad reunited in Heaven. Mom always said she had earned a special place in Heaven. I think it must be true. I love the look on Mom’s face as she teases my Dad on their anniversary. This is what he fought for – the Love of a Great Woman. Here’s to all the wonderful women in my family who kept the home fires burning. I took flowers to the ocean for all of you. God Bless you all on this Memorial Day 2021.

Reading the Sky

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Kierkegaard

The past couple of weeks the area around my apartment has been claimed by a rather large crow. The bird acts as a sentinel against the neighbors’ awful free-ranging cats. It caws furiously at the cats. If you let your cat roam around outside, please stop it immediately. It is estimated that house cats indiscriminately kill over two billion wild birds each year. Think of the scale of that slaughter. Three of my neighbors let their cats roam free all day long. I chase them off whenever I see them stalking the birds. The crow and I have this connection now. When it calls, I rush to the window to stop the prowling cats. The nature outside my window is a source of great inspiration to me. And, for me, the songs and flights of birds across the sky has always been auspicious.

We all seek guidance in life. Perhaps you turn to a family member, friend, spiritual guide to help you make good choices put your feet on the right paths. Human culture is filled with tales of divine messengers from on high, and in the vast majority of stories, the messenger appears during times of solitude. Ancient people often observed birds to interpret omens. In ancient Rome, such a person was known as an augur. And the interpretation was known as taking the auspices. Auspices literally means he who looks at birds. Seeking prophetic sings in nature is fundamental to the human spirit.

I’ve always looked to the sky for signs and inspiration. I love the gradient of blues from the lightest pale turquoise through cerulean, cobalt, lapis, azure up to the dark navy blue high up in the vault of the sky. When I am alone on the beach with just the birds, I look at the myriad of blues painted along the curving edges of space and call on nature to give me a sign as to my direction. The practice of Aeromancy (divination by interpreting atmospheric conditions)is perhaps the oldest method for divining the potential futures. Just like the shades of blue above me, there are a myriad of possible paths before me. The goal of reading the sky is to narrow the countless choices.

Our subconscious minds come to the fore when we interact with nature. This visceral gut feeling is the legacy of our most ancient ancestors. The calmness we experience in nature is akin to returning home. We are the long lost cousins to all life around us. Walking at sea level, I have an unobstructed view of the heavens and the ocean. And for a half mile or more, there are no other people – only birds. There, in the secluded timeless moments, I read the sky and feel the future waiting to unfold. My heart reconnects to the infinite serenity underlying all things, and my soul seeks out the forecasting echoes of what waits up ahead.

The weight of existence can be too much to bear alone. We all go through times of uncertainty. But the passage through adversity appears when one becomes mindful of self-imposed limitations. Pressing too hard only creates more resistance. Holding on to selfish ambitions constructs insurmountable barriers to manifesting a truly transcendent future. Set aside egotistical wants and desires, and, just as the wind blows and the tides roll, the path to your utmost future will open. Visit your ancestral home in nature, read the sky and change your future.

Count Your Blessings

If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.Albert Einstein

You have all heard the same advice before from many different people. To achieve your dreams you must set goals. In short you have to become a seer – a person who through supernatural insights can see the future. Every culture, throughout history, has sought knowledge of the future and practiced forms of divination. To set goals one must cast the mind forward into the future towards where they want to be. But how to determine the required steps? The process for obtaining material “wealth” are well established – you want a car or a house? You will need a down payment and probably have to borrow the rest against the future. But many people have peered into their future and seen they will never be able to own a house. So what are they to do?

There is a vital distinction between a house and a home. For many years, I lived in my grandparents old house. I was never allowed to purchase it from my Dad for various family-related reasons. And so I would tell my children their childhood home was our home but not our house. I was blessed to be able to raise my children there after an incredibly painful divorce. But my little family all had to leave in the end, because it was not our house. No one has lived there since my daughters moved out many year ago. They maintained and cleaned the place beautifully and left it spotless. Our home, where we made a million memories together, became nothing more than storage space for others in the family. The place has declined ever since. But the positive energy my children and I made there remains with us. Home is where the heart is, and our hearts are forever brightened by the beauty of our memories of the home we made together.

A goal is not always meant to be reached, it often serves simply as something to aim at. – Bruce Lee

Setting goals is a powerful tool for making positive changes in your life. Each and every one of us has done this. There is something in our lives which needs to be changed, and we set about trying to change that negative aspect. The goals we set are important up to a point, but it is the desire for change which is rewarded. The Universe will respond to your sincere efforts to change life for the better. Spiritual energy will illuminate the darkness ahead. When I studied philosophy, I thought the most frightening schools of thought were the ones which tried to negate the divine through logical “reasoning”. Imagine someone who desperately wants to be completely alone in the universe, who believes there is nothing more to life than what can be held in the hand or studied through “scientific methods”. The cold, clinical aspects of living that way scared me to my core. How can one hope to change if all you can rely on are logarithms and algorithms?

I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.Abraham Lincoln. There has to be more incentive than statistical analysis to set your feet to moving. If we all relied on strictly linear thinking there would be no reason to “have faith in oneself”. A rational, reasonable person would look at statistics and understand they have an infinitesimal chance to become “wealthy”. Over SIXTY PERCENT of the world’s wealth is held by 1% of the world’s richest individuals. During the global pandemic when so much of the world was suffering, US billionaires’ wealth increased by 40%. The personal fortune of just three men in the US, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos is larger than the poorest half of America. So when you get your feet moving forward towards happiness, it is probably best not to set your goal as financial wealth.

Reach high, for stars lie hidden in you. Dream deep, for every dream precedes the goal. – Rabindranath Tagore

When I was a little boy, I would look at the kids’ rooms on television and imagine what it would be like to have a bedroom that seemed as big as our entire home. I thought it would feel strange to have so much space to myself. I just wanted to be able to take ten steps without having to walk around something. My father, who worked the night shift in a factory, built the house we lived in more or less by himself. But it was my mother who made it a home. Mom, the daughter of a sharecropper/coal miner, took the meager financial means and wove it into a happy tapestry of life. She said we were her blessings. We had a safe and happy home from which to dream. When I became a Dad, I told my folks that my goal was for my kids to have a happy childhood. And I know, through all that happened growing up, my kids were happy overall. Today, the echoes of that happy home rest in our hearts and will never disappear.

For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.Ralph Waldo Emerson

No amount of divination will allow us to know how many days we have remaining. There can only be the hope that more of those days will be happy and matter not just to us but to others. Do not become angry at what you don’t have. Don’t envy wealthy people. See instead your own personal spiritual wealth. If your goal is to have a happy life, don’t count your money – count your blessings.

Life from Art

It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. – Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I have opened a store in Etsy to sell my art called “Life from Art”. I only sell and ship to the US for now.

The first name I chose had been taken by someone else. It is strange to go through the naming process and find another person had the same thought. But most of my life has been guided by a myriad of Plan Bs. In fact, Plan B would be the name of my never-to-be-written autobiography. But the name Life from Art rings true for me on so many levels. Sifting through my memories, I find three constants: Art, Hope, Love. These simple words and their countless synonyms have been my guiding lights.

The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Kurt Vonnegut

One dictionary (there are countless) defines Art as: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination…The art is in the doing not the theory. Yesterday, I was overcome by the need to create. This has been a basic human need to me for as long as I can remember. To put it in a prosaic context, the patterns in the bathroom linoleum in my childhood home entertained me as I performed my daily bodily “rituals”. One day I took a pen and paper into the toilet and drew a face I saw in the flooring. Coming out of the bathroom, my father asked, as he often did, what the hell were you doing in there? I showed him the drawing, and pointed out the spot on the floor. He just shook his head and smiled, as he did when he didn’t know how to express himself.

These three paintings are an expression of my heart. Yesterday, to celebrate opening my art store, I spent most of my waking day painting. The minutes and hours passed un-noted. I had not intend to spend the day creating, but my thorough enjoyment of art took over. The day started with a quote from Leonardo da Vinci – A painter should begin every canvas with a wash of black, because all things in nature are dark except where exposed by the light. I painted a canvas black, meditated a few minutes and began with the circle of the Wuji – the primordial universe. In Taoism (Daoism) all things flow from this ultimate state. This is the source of reality, life, creativity. This was the first time in my life that I spent a day creating – just painting. Me, the brush, ink, pen, paint and canvas. I did a few other things but ninety percent of my waking day was spent painting. The theme of these three paintings is the limitless nature of creative expression.

In school, I relished art class. Recalling the smell of crayons or pastel paints on wet newsprint instantly brings me back to childhood. When I taught kids in China, I always included a “hands-on” component to give them a chance to express themselves, a rare opportunity for them. I had bags of markers and crayons for each kid, and their eyes would light up whenever I took out my “art bag”. But as I told them art is not just drawing or painting. We express ourselves artfully in thousands of ways from cooking, conversation, home décor to poetry and painting. These artifacts of our unique personality brighten life with hopeful energy. To create is to live hopefully.

Hope will be forever be linked with wishes and dreams. Hope is the scent of magic when we first wake, and the sweet whispers that send us to sleep at night. Having twice stood at death’s door, I wear hope on my face like psychic armor against the long dark days and nights that may lurk up ahead. Part of my living on updated Plan Bs includes the necessity for positive thinking. My novels, my poetry, my art flow from golden grains of hope nourishing my heart and soul. I started this blog to try and spread a little hope and positivity. We must never give up. Even on the darkest days there is some light. Feel the hope in your heartbeat, your breathing. Know that you are unique and worthy of love.

Love is the voice under all silences, the hope which has no opposite in fear; the strength so strong mere force is feebleness: the truth more first than sun, more last than star. e.e. cummings

Love is a word with eight billion definitions. Love moves us up the sides of the mountains. Love is not defined by others but by your heart and soul. Love is a hopeful expression of life. Love is Art, and Art is Love. And, for me, I continue to create a wonderful part of my Life from Art.

www.lifefromart.etsy.com

Home of the Great Spirit

The Great Spirit is in all things, he is in the air we breathe. The Great Spirit is our Father, but the Earth is our Mother. She nourishes us, that which we put into the ground she returns to us….

Prayer of Big Thunder (Bedagi) a member of the Wabanaki Alonquin First People

People should not live separated from Nature. There is a life force in nature which many First People called the Great Spirit. The life force exists within all living things. It is this great spirit that I speak to when I approached the magnificent eagle which includes my beach in its territory. The beach eagle symbolizes the great ancestral force of life that connects humanity to the natural world. In the mythology of many Native American tribes, since the eagle flies the highest, it travels between the physical and spiritual worlds and is a messenger to the Great Spirit. This eagle is a very personal symbol to me. And as such, it is sacred to me. I always approach with reverence and respect.

After my father died, I could not return home for his funeral because of the pandemic. I performed my own funeral rights, alone, far from birth family. The day he died I went to the ocean and spoke to his spirit. In the past, I have always thought of my father when I visited the ocean. The first time he took me to see the ocean he told me, “A man with a good boat could go anywhere in the world, if he lives by the ocean.” During World War Two, Pop’s plane had to fly over hundreds of miles of open ocean and lived on dangerous islands. In a moment of stark reality, he said he found peace with his potential death, in that unlike fighting on land, “…if we went down, the ocean cleared away everything.” And he bequeathed that indomitable spirit to me.

I live in America’s Pacific Northwest Coast. Like many tribes, the Native Americans of this area revered the eagle. The northern states area still retains the wide-open-spaces feel of the American Frontier. This is a land of powerful shamanistic beliefs. Coastal people believed the journey to the land of the dead took several days. And during my father’s journey to the afterlife, this eagle appeared on the day of his funeral. On the day he died, a hawk came to the beach. People had often described my Dad’s distinctive nose as a hawk-nose. The technical term is “aquiline” – eagle-like. A few days later the eagle appeared the day of my father’s funeral. It watched me as I built a small cairn of stones near the incoming tide. I prayed my father’s soul would find the peace he was denied in life. A shadow passed in front of me, as the tide toppled the stones. I looked up to see this great spirit soaring out over the open water. To indigenous people, the appearance of an eagle during prayers means the prayers were answered. That thought, more than anything, healed the wound to my heart left by father’s passing.

Before his eyesight and arthritic hands failed him, my father used to carve elaborate peace pipes. He studied the beliefs of the indigenous people of North America, especially the Plains Indians. My Dad could recount nearly verbatim stories from his large collection of history books. Pop was raised a Protestant and attended a religious high school. My family lineage includes many preachers, prophets and, if you go back far enough, saints. He told me the native peoples’ beliefs were born from their living close to nature. The stories differed from group to group, but overall the Great Spirit was the universal spiritual force watching over all life. We are part of nature and nature is part of us.

The Lakota people call the divine, or sacredness, residing in everything – Wakan Tanka (Wakȟáŋ Tȟáŋka ). Every living thing and every object has Wakan – sacred. Tanka – could be translated asGreat. The great activist Russell Means said the term should be translated as “Great Mystery”. And it is the spirit of the Great Mystery that watches over me as I enter the place where the natural and spiritual realms intersect. The word mystery originated in the terms for mystical truth and hidden spiritual significance. My encounters with the beach eagle connect my spirit to my father who dwells in the Home of the Great Spirit. May the Great Spirit watch over you.

The Great Spirit Prayer

Oh, Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the wind, whose breath gives life to all the world.

Hear me; I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.

Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy, Myself.

Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.

— Chief Yellow Lark

https://www.firstpeople.us/html/An-Indian-Prayer.html

Not Lost in Translation

He who neglects to drink of the spring of experience is likely to die of thirst in the desert of ignorance. Li Bai (Greatest Tang Dynasty poet: 701AD -762 AD)

I got some great news this week. One of my poems – a Haiku – is going to be published in an upcoming issue of the literary journal “Fifty Haikus”. Haiku appears deceptively simple, but the small scale of the poem, just three lines and seventeen syllables, forces a writer to condense a moment to its essence. I had written haiku for years, but did not know the underlying structure. Haiku must contain a “kigo” an allusion to a season. This could be many things: a color – white for winter, green for spring; temperature, length of day. And there has to be a “kireji” a cutting word. This word comes at the end of a line, usually the second, and it signals a change, a transition. I learned this from my friend Shempei, a Japanese colleague at the university in China where I worked.

Years ago, the Dean of the Foreign Language College asked if I could create a Poetry Appreciation class for English majors. I immediately said yes. I had to find a textbook and design the curriculum. That class was the most rewarding thing I ever did at the university. I only wish I had a camera when I told my shocked students they would learn to write English poetry. Working as an editor and helping my wife with translations, I had learned that poetry is the most difficult writing in any language to translate. As the poet Robert Frost once said, “Poetry is what gets lost in translation.” Imagine writing poetry in a foreign language. That is what my students did the second week of my Poetry class.

I had the students write a haiku. I had asked my friend to explain Haiku to me. I told my bewildered students I would explain in ten minutes, and they would write for as long as they needed, up to half an hour. I then handed them a post-it note, and told them to create. To demonstrate I improvised a haiku for each season on the spot. As they wrote, I circulated around the room encouraging them, and asking if I could read their work aloud. The flowing of spontaneity and creativity electrified the room. If they agreed, I posted their work to the classroom wall. As the semester went on, I had them do several more poems. The poetry of some exceptional students made me want to encourage them even further. I wanted to have the university publish their work, but the university press told me it would cost – ME – the equivalent of five thousand dollars. That is why I collected and edited their work into a book on Amazon.

The exquisite poetry of one student in particular, Rosemary, amazed me. She wrote in a style similar to the English Romantics with elegant descriptions. So I decided to have a poetry reading to reward the students for their hard work. I presented the idea to the Dean as a celebration of William Shakespeare’s birthday. My goal was to showcase student writing, but I knew them well enough to know students would never do it without a little “cover”. I asked my fellow foreign teachers to read, any style, any way they wanted. I would sprinkle the student poets in amongst their teachers to make them comfortable. Truthfully, most of all, I wanted to hear Rosemary read her poem. I’ll admit, the first time all my students read in rehearsal brought tears to my eyes. For a dozen years, my students knew I was a dedicated, often emotional teacher. I couldn’t have been prouder of them.

The day came, and my colleagues did not disappoint. We had about a hundred students in the audience. I did a little video to go with my poem. My students sometimes called my class the “Wheeler Show”. It was a very popular show for over a decade :-). We had beat poetry, spoken word, Old English, free verse, and Haiku. Shempei was something of a rock star with the students. He is young, handsome and Japanese. The students had long admired Japanese culture and many wanted to chat with sensei Shempei. My friends kindly encouraged the student poets as they stepped forward. I sat by the side and basked in their youthful energy. Rosemary got a standing ovation from the audience. I had all the students and teachers sign the poster the Student Union made for me. It is a prized possession of mine. What was not lost in translation that day, was the beauty and power of spoken poetry.

I keep in touch with many of my former students. I learned from my wife, that there is a lot more than what happens in the classroom to being a teacher in China. You become close to some students and they look to you for guidance in life. Well, during the pandemic I reached out to dozens of my students and set up an email just for them. I heard back from many of them. Some were married, some had children. And one day I heard from Rosemary. She had earned her PhD in English Literature and was offered a position as a professor at our prestigious university. She told me that class, that poetry reading was a catalyst for her choosing to become a university professor. That, my friends was truly poetry to my ears.

Rosemary’s writing is included in the collection with hundreds more of my Millennial students’ writing. (I asked students to choose a pen name to give them a little more freedom to create. Her pen name was Bluebell)

The Speed of Life

How did it get so late so soon? – Dr. Seuss

A Gigasecond (one billion seconds) ago, I became a single father. My kids were 7, 5 and 3 years old. I measured each day differently after that. If we are lucky like my Dad we may have three gigaseconds to live our life the best ways we can. These days, our 21st Century tech-enhanced lives are measured in nanoseconds – a billionth of a second. That is the distance light travels in a foot – one light foot. The world around us is illuminated by reflected light. And so for every foot away something is, it is also a nanosecond in the past. Because of these infinitesimal measurements of time, in effect, we are always time traveling away from Now. And our perceptions create the tempo – the speed of life. Speed equals distance traveled over time elapsed.

The speed of light is well documented 299,792,458 meters a second. But the speed of light changes depending on the medium the light must travel through. Under the right conditions, light can actually slow down and stop. In the same way, your lifetime must travel through your perceptions. How you perceive your life, helps to determine how you live your life. But what is the speed of life? Or more importantly, what is the speed of your life?

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”Hunter S. Thompson

Are you feeling stressed out, anxious or nervous? Far too many people put a “To Do” list or events on their Daily Planner ahead of actually living. But being “busy” and having no so-called “spare time” wreaks havoc on our sense of fulfillment. People tell themselves there aren’t enough hours in a day. We each have the same number of hours, minutes (1440) and seconds (86,400) in a day, until one day – we don’t. But what you do with this finite time defines the pages of your life story. In the end, the last grain of time will fall, and the echo of the final heartbeat will fade away. Our spirits will depart this world for the next great adventure. What will you leave behind – a neatly organized pile of projects, lists of completed job duties? Right now, how would you define a well lived life? Are you moving towards that?

Sunrise Salutation Chill

My daughter and I used to wander through cemeteries placing flowers on untended graves and saying peoples names aloud – to give their memory a spark. I never once saw a gravestone with the words manager, or supervisor carved into them. There’s never been a grave marker with the words, he always filed his reports on time. Those job duties are part of how you earn a living. Think of the meaning of that phrase for a second. Earn a living Maybe that phrase is at the core of so much stress these days. It can feel like you are not entitled to a decent life unless you work harder to earn it. What if, no matter how hard you work to earn it, you never reach that path leading to the well-lived life? We cannot know ahead of time how many ticks of the clock we have. But as we become more self-actualized, we begin to live authentically.

As a single dad for so long, I knew I would never have the lifestyle of the people I worked with. To be “successful” in the traditional work-related sense, I would have had to sacrifice something far more precious than a fatter paycheck – time with my kids. Now, starting my third gigasecond, I don’t regret one second of time spent with my angels. Mature parents will always tell new parents, enjoy the kids when they are young, because they grow up fast. We feel this deep in our hearts. Each of us have experienced the seemingly endless days of summer as a child. Seconds, minutes, hours all blended together to form a gray haze on the distant horizon of school starting.

To become mindful of our authentic selves, we have to adjust our internal clocks to slow things down; to “stop and smell the roses” and appreciate the beauty of life. As the end nears, people face a spiritual reckoning. Perhaps it comes in a brief “my life passed before my eyes” moments. Or the recounting and remembering takes place over months or years. In the end, we all must take a measure of our lives. There are so many ways to measure your life. Whichever way you choose, slow down the speed of your life and let the positive light shine through.

In the Presence of Miracles

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.Albert Einstein

The manifested divine spirit accompanies your heart in times of difficulty or ease. Like the air we breathe, the spiritual channel flows everywhere. For me, I most often connect to the divine while communing with nature. The presence manifests, in the quiet moments, when no one else is around. The soul murmurs and walking beside you is the manifestation of divine energy. The third eye trembles as if strummed by a transcendent caress. In gracious communion with unadorned life, I wander the humble path of the seeker. I seek to stand in the presence and be restored.

We are modern beings augmented by technology. Each of us has multiple devices upon which we rely: computers, phones, refrigerators, air conditioners, water heaters, coffee makers… At the same time, our spirits were manifested from ethereal transcendental fabric beyond this world of the five senses. Have our souls lived through thousands of incarnations? What is the face of God? Is another sacred door opened to the enlightened after this life? These and tens of thousands of more such questions are matters of faith. God -one of the simplest of words, is embodied within a labyrinth of definitions. When people ask me, do you think there is a God, I answer: I don’t think – I know. There is no question in my mind/heart/soul. I don’t struggle with this.

But in this modern world founded on rational sciences and so-called logic, people tend to want tangible proof of the intangible. To enter such a discussion is a losing proposition. The roots of Western science can be traced back to Thales and Aristotle, or earlier to Mesopotamia. And modern science began in the Renaissance with the likes of Galileo and Newton. Science is founded upon observation and theory. A group of little kids once asked an environmental scientist I worked with to explain what he does. He told the kids, “I go to a place and find something that seems like it doesn’t belong there, and I try to figure out why it is there.” And science uses logic, observation, theory, experiments, to figure things out. But often what they are trying to figure out, has existed for millions of years. And from that uncharted land springs the miraculous.

Miracles large and small abound in this amazing world. I am thrilled this spring to watch geese navigate northward along geomagnetic lines. Yes, that can be partially explained by science, but not completely. Just as dogs most often orient themselves north and south before pooping – a scientifically proven fact. But why? That question – why – is the unexplained miraculous part. We are always in the presence of a miraculous spirit. Forces beyond our understanding have been at work since the dawn of the Universe. And these forces spur our imagination, inspire our spiritual journeys. I free my imagination when communing with nature. In the words of St. Augustine, Miracles are not contrary to nature but only contrary to what we know about nature.

This day quiet your heart. Still the waters of your spirit. Breath in a meditative way to calm your body. Do not resist the stray thoughts, just acknowledge and dismiss them. Imagine yourself in a favorite peaceful place, where you once felt the presence of that which is at the core of your beliefs. Walk beside that miraculous spirit. Remind yourself that you too are born from an immortal realm. We are not alone. We are all in the presence of miracles.