Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Planting a Garden is an Act of Faith, as is . . .


"It was such a pleasure to sink one's hands into the warm earth, to feel at one's fingertips the possibilities of the new season."

Kate Morton

I planted my fall garden this weekend.

As I tucked the fragile young transplants and the minuscule seeds inside the dark soil it occurred to me that planting a garden is an act of faith. We gardeners believe that the miracle of germination and growth and photosynthesis will happen yet again, that with a little water and sunlight and dirt, and a measure of tender care, these tiny seeds and seedlings will produce delicious food and beautiful flowers.
So, believing in things not seen, we move forward. Having faith means we see the unseen; then we believe; then we act. Our loving labor turns our vision into reality.
Thinking more broadly, I realized that many other endeavors are acts of faith.
Planning for retirement.
Starting a business.
Taking a new job.
Moving to a new city.
Enrolling in law school.
Building a new house.
Beginning an exercise program.
Getting married.
Having a baby.
All of these first steps - and a thousand more I could name - involve stepping into the unknown, believing that our efforts will return sweet rewards. A successful life requires moving forward in faith.
Then, thinking about gardening in an even larger sense, my mind latched on to this passage by L. M. Montgomery from the Anne of Green Gables series:
"It always amazes me to look at the little wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in 'em," said Captain Jim. "When I ponder on them seeds I don't find it hard to believe that we've got souls that'll live in other worlds. You could hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn't seen the miracle, could you?"
Just as I have faith that planting and nourishing a garden will yield an abundant harvest, I also have faith "that we've got souls that'll live in other worlds," worlds grander and far more glorious than this one. That faith leads me to believe in a future I cannot see, and then to act on the principle that my purpose here in this life is to prepare for the eternities.
I'm a "little wrinkled brown seed," yet I know in my heart that "there [is] life in them tiny things" and there are "rainbows in" me and those around me. I'm destined to become something of eternal significance, as are you and all my other brothers and sisters here on Earth.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - Going Bananas!



"Life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful."
Annette Funicello



If I were to ask you to guess what a chimpanzee's favorite food is, you would probably say bananas. And you would be correct. However, if I were to ask you to guess what a chimpanzee's second favorite food is, you probably wouldn't have a clue. You might guess some other kind of fruit, or nuts, or perhaps something sweet. The correct answer is lettuce. Believe it or not, chimpanzees like lettuce almost as much as bananas. Given a choice, a chimpanzee will pick lettuce nearly as often as bananas.
A group of zoologists, aware that chimpanzees like bananas and lettuce almost equally, once conducted an interesting experiment. Using two similar groups of chimps, they placed one group in a closed room with a door leading out to a cage. In the cage, they placed a wooden box and under the wooden box, they placed heads of lettuce. They opened the door to the room and allowed the chimpanzees into the cage. The chimpanzees discovered the box, lifted it up, and found lettuce, their second favorite food. As you might imagine, they were delighted to find the lettuce and began to eat it contentedly.
The second group of chimpanzees was placed in a similar environment, with one exception. Between the room and the cage, there was a window with open curtains through which the chimps could see into the cage. The zoologists, in plain sight of the chimpanzees, placed a bunch of bananas under the wooden box. Then they closed the curtains, removed the bananas, and replaced them with heads of lettuce. They opened the door to the room and the chimpanzees were allowed into the cage. They went straight for the box, lifted it up, and discovered lettuce, their second favorite food. How do you suppose they responded?
Rather than being happy to find their second favorite food, these chimpanzees, unlike the first group, went absolutely berserk! They shrieked in anger, shredded the lettuce, and stamped on it. They went totally "ape." Or maybe "bananas."
Remember, these chimpanzees hadn't discovered under the box something they hated; they had found lettuce, their second favorite food. But instead of eating it contentedly like the first group, they went ballistic.
What was the difference? Their expectations. The first group had no expectation of finding bananas under the box, and thus they were quite happy when they discovered lettuce there. The second group, however, expected to find bananas. When they found lettuce instead, their expectations were thwarted.
I have observed that happy people strive to do well but they don't expect perfection, whether in themselves, in those around them, or in the situations life throws at them. To them, wonderful is pretty good. They choose to be happy.
On the other hand, those who expect perfection in others, themselves or life are usually frustrated and disappointed and, as a result, unhappy. With their unreasonable expectations and demands, they often succeed in making those around them miserable too.
Whatever life puts under our box, whether bananas or lettuce or something else entirely, we can choose how to respond. I agree with Annette Funicello - life doesn't have to be perfect to be wonderful.   

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - "Dirty Deeds" - Lessons from Garden Soil


"Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes."



"I call the time I spend digging in my garden dirt 'agri-therapy.'"
Scott Farnsworth

One of my hobbies is vegetable gardening, and I've learned over the years that there are many parallels between healthy garden dirt and healthy thinking.
Good dirt needs regular fertilizer. Over time, even the best of soils can run out of nutrients. A wise gardener adds compost or other fertilizer at the beginning of each growing season and then sprinkles a little around each plant as the season goes along. In like manner, quality thinking requires a steady input of new ideas to add nourishment to the brain. Engaging books and challenging conversations are excellent ways to feed the mind and help it stretch and grow.
Rotating crops helps a garden to thrive. Certain plants leach particular elements from the dirt and add back others, while different plants do the opposite. Always raising the same crop in the same place will ruin the soil. Analogously, repeating the same activities over and over depletes the human brain. The old saying, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" is true. It is equally true - based on my observations of many retirees - that "All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy." Varieties of tasks and interests, both at work and at play, keep Jack's and Jill's brains lively and alert.
Lying fallow is essential from time to time. After I raise a fall garden and a spring garden, I don't garden during the summer. That's not because I'm afraid of the heat, but because my dirt needs to rest. It's counterproductive to garden all year round, even though the weather here would permit it. In a similar way, it's not smart to stay plugged in 24/7. The human brain is not built for incessant artificial stimulation, and I worry for those who require a never-ending fix of YouTube, video games, texting, television, and music. Quiet time, alone time, doing-nothing time, are imperative for the mental health of modern mankind. For the sake of our sanity, we need to turn off our electronic devices every now and then.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom - If at First You don't Succeed . . .

"If at first you don't succeed . . . you should probably steer clear of skydiving." 
Tom and Ray



In a world of instant gratification, superstar talent, and "overnight" success, it's easy to overlook the power of perseverance. It's definitely old school to sing the praises of this character trait. The fortitude to battle through missteps and difficulties, to work hard, and to stick to the task until success is finally achieved may not seem all that sexy, but in real life it's a very big deal. John D. Rockefeller, once the world's richest man, stated: 

There is no other quality so essential to success of any kind as perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.
The path to success is seldom a straight line; it requires flexibility in working around potholes and obstacles. Successful people don't get flummoxed by detours and setbacks. They know that do-overs and work-arounds are part of the game. My eighth-grade science teacher, a crusty old educator from Oklahoma, had a favorite saying that I still remember:
        When you make a mistake, don't stop.
        That's why pencils have erasers on top.

If at first you don't succeed, you may need to work a little harder. Perseverance involves hard work; long, grinding, tedious, back-breaking work. Lucky breaks and serendipitous breakthroughs occasionally happen, but they usually happen to the hardest working and most persistent. Thomas Jefferson said it best:

I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.

Another element of perseverance is stick-to-it-tivness. Travis Bradberry called it grit. "Grit is that 'extra something' that separates the most successful people from the rest. It's the passion, perseverance, and stamina that we must channel in order to stick with our dreams until they become a reality."

Perseverance - in the form of flexibility, hard work, and grit - is in my estimation the unheralded but absolutely essential "secret sauce" of success. Losers give up. Winners persevere.