How to Put the Extra in Ordinary Days

by Barbara Bartocci
Family Circle 5/11/99

Author Barbara Bartocci has created what she calls a "two-step dance" to a more fulfilling life. Here are 10 reflections on the events and feelings that all of us experience, coupled with practical action steps that give a spiritual dimension to an ordinary day.

Be Happy
While teaching at San Diego State University, I asked my freshmen students to write a theme on one of their life's goals. It startled me how many wrote, "My goal is to be happy." Is it a function of youth to think you find happiness the way you find your car keys, simply by looking? At mid life I realize my happiest moments have sidled into my life on cat's feet. I remember a moment while camping in the Sierras when sprawled on my back, my face raised to the sun, I listened to my small children laughing with their father. When we chase happiness directly, it often eludes us. We have to let it find us - and then recognize it when it does

Action: Write down five of your happiest moments. Notice: Were they big occasions or small? Expected or unexpected? Long-lasting or fleeting? What had made you happy this past week? Can you choose to be happy no matter what happens? Observe your instinctive response to that question.

Don't Quit
When my grandson Jake was learning to walk, I watched. He pulled himself up on the corner of a chair and stumbled forward until down he fell on his rear. This occurred three or four times, making me chuckle as I wondered, Is Jake thinking, "Well, that proves it, I'll never walk"? Of course not. To Jake, falling was part of the process. It's a gentle reminder that God doesn't count the times we fall either. Help me to remember that the next time I fall while taking steps on my own spiritual path.

Action: Do you let failure discourage you? Redefine failure: It's not a judgement but merely information on what doesn't work. Decide what you've learned that will help you in your next try.

Be Hopeful
My friend Howard teaches theatre at a Midwestern university, but he grew up in Australia, "where it's bleak and barren in the outback," he said. "There is poverty to the landscape. Yet in the midst of the bleakness, the most beautiful, richly plumaged birds rise suddenly into the air, taking wing before you - as if God had placed them as a sign of hope in the wilderness. We need to look for the winged colors of hope in our own personal deserts." Yet sometimes, on days when I feel harried and strung out, I forget to watch for them.

Action: Today, look for hope's bright plumage, even if your life has lately been a desert. Remember that we're most likely to see what we open our minds to see.

Accept Today.
I'm not sure where I saw this, but it's a wonderful affirmation: "I is where I is." Say it out loud: "I IS WHERE I IS." How often we waste precious life energy wishing we could be someplace else. when wishing wont change a darn thing. I once heard a 65 year old acquaintance say, with a touch of melancholy, "I'm just now realizing I never appreciated my happy times when I was experiencing them." Help me find the grace to appreciate the right where "I is" today.

Action: For this one day, live in the reality of "what is" and accept everything in your life as a gift - both the good and the seemingly bad. Try to recognize that even apparent problems offer us opportunities to grow.

Say Thanks.
My friend Susan watched in terror as her husband reached down for a newspaper and suddenly clutched his chest. "If medivac hadn't reached us so fast, Jack would be dead," Susan told me later. "I nearly lost my husband before I realized what a fine husband I had." As clearly as if she were standing there beside me, I heard my grandmother's voice: "You never miss the water until the well runs dry," she said. When I was 10, I thought she meant, "Drink more water." Today I know better. How many times have I splashed and gulped the cold, clear water of my life and failed to taste the gifts that were running unnoticed through my fingers? A friendship I took for granted, a spouse, the simple everyday joys - and then they're gone, like drops of water lifted to the sun.

Action: Today, reach out consciously and drink deep of all the ordinary blessings that flow through your life. If you experience a negative event, find a positive way to think about it. What is it teaching you?

Don't Worry.
Over lunch, I worried aloud to my friend Barbara. She shook her head and smiled. "Don't you know there are two times not to worry? Don't worry if the problem is one you can fix. Just go fix it. And don't worry if the problem is one you can't fix, because worrying won't change anything." I laughed and wondered, How many times do I substitute worrying for the harder task of fixing?

Action: Today, if you're feeling anxious, ask: "Is this something I can fix?" If the answer is no, stop worrying.

Be Kind.
My friend Bev started jogging at 6 A.M., when it's still dark in the winter. Her jog took her past a large construction site, and even so early, there were usually some construction workers out. One morning, a burly worker stopped her: Uh-oh, thought Bev. But with a grin, he held out an orange vest. "Lady, you're not safe, running in the dark the way you do. The guys and me, we got a little worried, so we bought you this." Talk about love in action. Today, God, open my eyes to notice if someone is stumbling in the dark. Help me show as much kindness as those construction workers showed to Bev.

Action: Do something kind for a friend, a stranger or someone who rubs you the wrong way. Notice how easy or difficult it was to do this.

Stay Honest.
Yesterday, I bumped a car's fender in a parking lot, and I wrestled with myself. Should I leave a note? It was such a small dent, and my car wasn't scratched. Was I responsible? Or was the dent already there? Finally, I realized I had to leave a note because if we try to live honestly, we do it always, in all ways, not just when someone sees us. I hope I didn't make the dent, but I'm glad I left a note if I did.

Action: We get in the habit of over looking small ethical lapses. Did you ever fudge just a little - say, on an expense report? If a salesclerk undercharged you, did you pocket the excess change? Did you ever tell a "white lie" to save face? Think about your small lapses, and the next time you're about to have one, ask yourself if you want to make a different choice.

Reach Out.
There is a gift in simply being present with someone, even if the encounter lasts only 30 seconds. When I make eye contact with the supermarket or the gas station attendant, my eyes say, "I see you. You are not an appendage of the cash register. You are a person." It is false humility to assume we do not make a difference. Today, I pray to make all my encounters, including the casual ones, count.

Action: As you rush through your day, stay conscious of each interaction. Honor each person with eye contact and a smile. It doesn't matter if the person smiles back. You are offering a gift, not making a trade.

Seek Grace
When I worked as a writer for Hallmark Cards, I wrote the following copy for the front cover of a Christmas card:
In the crisp,
clear darkness of a December night
I look up at the sky and ponder God . . .
Creator of an infinity of stars.
Millions, billions . . .
beyond any number I might count . . .
Is it not a miracle, indeed,
that God can look through the stars
. . . to me?

I was 31 when I wrote those words, and at the time, I didn't believe any of them. Painful circumstances had shattered my take-for-granted faith, and I felt adrift in the universe. When I looked up at the night sky, all I saw were stars. I didn't see God, nor did it seem as if God saw me. Yet 20 years later, I realize that it was God's grace that sustained and strengthened me during that anguished period. Gifts of the Spirit were all around. While God does look through the stars to see me, sometimes I must look past my doubts to see God.

Action: Think about any coincidences you've recently had in your life. Psychologist Carl Jung coined the phrase "synchronicity" to refer to events that occur by apparent coincidence but actually are prompted by a higher force. See if you can find the spiritual grace that may possibly lie behind some of the apparent coincidences in your life.

Back to the Index

View My Guestbook~*~*~Sign My Guestbook
Page me on Icq!