Living Well, in Just Four Words

 
Living Well, in Just Four Words
 

Living Well, in Just Four Words

Just four words. 

Tara Parker-Pope has been writing about health and wellness for over twenty years, both as the health columnist for the New York Times and as the author of three wellness related books. She recently wrote a column in which she wrote that all of what she has learned about living well could be summed up in just four words.

Move.

Nourish.

Reflect.

Connect.

I love the simplicity of this, and I could not agree with her more.

Move. As someone who spends a fair amount of time as a writer, it is not uncommon for me to experience writer's block at times. I have recently renewed a practice of going for a thirty-minute walk whenever I feel this way. It is amazing the positive effect, getting up and moving for a short while makes a big difference. And when I exercise on a regular basis, my mood, energy, and sleep are all significantly improved. I forget who the health educator is that I first heard this idea from, but he had a unique way of reminding people of the importance of actively moving at least thirty minutes a day. He offered a seemingly simple and even a bit amusing challenge to us all: see if you can limit being sedentary to no more than twenty-three and half hours a day.

Nourish. We, of course, already know the importance of eating healthy foods. Author Michael Pollan, who also has a gift for simplifying health wisdom, advises us to, "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
When it comes to the word "nourish," what we physically eat is only part of the picture. It is equally important to monitor our daily intake of the things that nourish us both emotionally and spiritually. A focus on what truly nourishes us can have more than the originally intended meaning.

Reflect. One of the reasons I like writing this column every week is that as a fellow traveler on this journey of living well, it offers me a built in time to pause and reflect on what I personally need to remember to do to be well. I believe that the ancient philosopher Socrates was correct when he said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Taking time daily and weekly to pause and reflect on our lives, relationships, work, and service and making needed corrections are essential to our well-being.

Connect. We know that isolation is a risk factor for both physical and emotional illness, and so it stands to reason that connecting with others is a crucial factor in being well. We are wired for connection, and so nurturing our relationships is key to our well-being. The same is true for cultivating our connection with our spiritual Higher Power-with God, or however, we name our Source of life and well-being. Remembering to nurture connections in all aspects of our lives gives us positive energy.

Move. Nourish. Reflect. Connect. It indeed is as simple as that, and as hard as that. Certainly, we can remember these four simple words. And perhaps that is the first step to putting them into practice on a regular basis.


If you would like to read Tara Parker-Pope's article about these four words you can find it here.


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Choose Joy

 
Choose Joy
 

Choose Joy

I am taking some vacation time this week and was going to rerun a previously written column, but had a different idea when we had a beautiful snowfall here in Wisconsin this week. After the fresh snow arrived, I heard people both praising and cursing its arrival, and it reminded me of the quote found in the photo above.


The quote speaks for itself, and begs the question: "What is the 'snow' in your life and in mine about which our attitude makes all the difference?"


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A New Year's Gift

 
A New Year's Gift
 

A New Year's Gift

As we transition from Christmas into a new year, it is natural for each of us to take some time to reflect on what we are most grateful for regarding the year that has just passed, and what we wish to more intentional about in the year to come. One of the defining activities of the Christmas season is the giving and receiving of gifts. And, of course, one of the defining activities of the beginning of a new year is the making of resolutions. As I hear people talk about the former activity--the giving and receiving of gifts--I often sense great joy in what people share about the gifts they give to others. As I hear people talk about the latter activity, making New Year's resolutions, I typically sense a very different kind of energy, one of the underlying feelings of self-criticism, anxiety, and a long list of “shoulds,”things people feel they need to be doing or changing about themselves or their lives.

So I have a suggestion. What if we were to bring the same joy and positive energy that we feel about the giving and receiving of gifts to the setting of our resolutions for the new year? What if we were to think about our New Year's resolutions as gifts that we are choosing to give to ourselves?

When you or I want to give a lovely gift to someone we care about, we first take some time to think about what that person would truly want. What would make them truly happy? The better we know the person, the easier it is for us to choose just the right gift, one that we know will please them. What we desire most for the recipient is that our gift will bring them a great sense of joy. We certainly wouldn't give a gift as a hint that there is a change we think the person should make, hoping that our gift will prompt the change to happen.  

So if our resolutions or New Year's commitments are also, in fact, presents to ourselves, we would not want to have that attitude about this gift to ourselves either. Instead, we can wonder what new commitment could help us be who we really want to be, what new commitment would please us or make us truly happy, and what would give us a new sense of joy.

With this mindset in mind, I have decided to give myself the gift of three New Year's resolutions for 2019. First, I have signed up to sign up for a very challenging bike race that will take place next August. Second, I have decided to make playing the piano on a regular basis a priority. And third, I am recommitting to a regular morning practice of prayer and meditation. Doing each of these activities is a gift I can give to myself. As I approach this new year, I realize that I sometimes tend to work more than is good for me, and thus I need more rest and play in my life, which the biking and playing the piano will help support. And any extra time I spend nurturing my spiritual life is always one of the greatest gifts I can give to myself. I don't feel one ounce of “should” or “have to” about any of these resolutions, instead, they feel life-giving, and that is the point of these resolutions.

You know yourself better than anyone. You know better than anyone what having more of or less of in your life right now would make you happier and more joyful. Why not give yourself the gift of a New Year's resolution that will help increase your sense of balance and wholeness, and thus your overall sense of well-being?  

And there is one important benefit to approaching the setting of a resolution as a gift to yourself rather than as a “should,” and that is in the long run, there is a much better chance that you will stay with your positive resolution.


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Opening Our Hearts to Christmas

 
Opening Our Hearts to Christmas
 

Opening Our Hearts to Christmas

Over the years I have helped coordinate many children's Christmas pageants, and my all-time favorite memory is the year we parents found a seven-foot paper mache giraffe in the church basement, put a blinking red nose on it, named him Rudolph, and made him a last-minute addition to the performance that year. Rudolph the red nosed giraffe turned out to be an excellent enhancement to the other stable animals the children played around the manger. Adding new animals to the stable was not without precedent. The year before we had two sisters dressed up as border collies. They had so loved wearing their dog costumes for Halloween that year that they wanted to wear them again for the church's annual Christmas pageant. They happily barked along in time as the rest of the kids, dressed up as Mary, Joseph, the angels, shepherds, sheep, and donkeys, sang Joy to the World.

   And then there was the year a 75-year-old member of our congregation who sang a song we adults collectively wrote entitled The Innkeeper's Blues. He had been a blues singer in his younger days, and he brought the house down when he sang the newly penned song to Mary and Joseph after they inquired about a room at his inn.  Everyone in the congregation loved it!

   When I served as a pastor several years later, the family Christmas Eve service at our church featured the children's pageant and was by far and away the most highly attended service of the year. It wasn't just the parents and grandparents who loved it; everyone enjoyed this celebration of organized chaos. Whether it was an angel losing her wing, a shepherd tripping over his costume, the baby Jesus being dropped (it was a doll!), or someone forgetting their lines, there was always a new surprise every year. I have never experienced so much laughter and so many smiling faces as we did during those family Christmas Eve services. Every year when we closed the service with the children leading us in singing Silent Night, our hearts were fully open, and there wasn't a dry eye in the church.

   The love that is palpable in all Christmas pageant celebrations captures the essence Christmas, the love of God made manifest through the birth of Christ. Christmas is the story of the "Word made flesh," of the love of God becoming incarnate amongst us. It was that love that we celebrated and incarnated in the children's Christmas pageants that I just described. It was that love that made all of our faces smile and shine as we laughed, sang, and cried together.

   Children's pageants are not the only opportunity to celebrate and enact this Christmas love of God. We all have the chance to celebrate this Christmas love in the pageants of our own everyday lives. No costumes or red-red-nosed giraffes are required in these pageants (although they do add to the fun); all that is needed are loving hearts and minds, ones that are as open to wonder and mystery as any child's.  

    We at Living Compass wish all of you who celebrate this sacred season a Merry Christmas. In whatever role you play this year in your own pageants of life, and with whatever cast of characters you gather, may you open your heart and cherish the love of God in your midst.  


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The Music of Christmas

 
The Music of Christmas
 

The Music of Christmas

For those of us who celebrate Christmas, one of the most special parts of the season is its music. What would Christmas be without songs like "Silent Night," "Joy to the World," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and "The First Noel"?

   As I listen to my music service's Christmas station, I am amazed at the almost endless variety of arrangements of Christmas songs that are played. Most artists at some point in their careers record a Christmas album, which means it is possible to hear the same Christmas song being sung by artists as diverse as Carrie Underwood, Andrea Bocelli, Bob Dylan, Katie Perry, the Cambridge Singers, Alvin and Chipmunks, and several hundred others. Depending on our tastes we may feel like a particular arrangement is the perfect one, or we may be wondering whoever thought a particular arrangement was a good idea.

    There are, of course, no "right" or "wrong" arrangements of Christmas carols, as it is all a matter of taste.  For many of us, the arrangements we prefer today may be very different from what we preferred when we were younger because we have changed over the years.  The words, however, are timeless and it is those words that are ultimately the most important part of Christmas carols.

  Just as there is no one "right" way to arrange Christmas music, there is also no "right" way to arrange our holiday gatherings with friends and family.  In fact, just as our taste in music changes over time, we will also find that our gatherings with friends and family will change as well.

   The essence of Christmas remains constant year after year, as it is the telling of the story of the "Word made flesh," how we bring those words to life is always changing, however.  Allow yourself to be flexible and creative in your options. Maybe this is the year to write some "new music" as you gather with friends and family.  Maybe the music will be quiet and more reflective this year, or perhaps it will be bolder and more up-tempo. Perhaps it will be sad music because we are grieving a loss or joyful because of a new face in the crowd. Perhaps there will be more voices singing along this year, perhaps there will be fewer.  While the music is always changing, our comfort is found in the fact the words and the message of Christmas are changeless.

   I don't know about you, but I need to remember to avoid the mistake of trying to make music from another time fit the present moment. Living and loving the present moment, whatever it may hold, can be one of the greatest Christmas gifts that we can give to ourselves and others. 



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