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    Ok, everyone, I blew it. I am very sorry to have been so out of touch with so many people. Grad school, babies, pain. I freaked and, rather than complain to everyone in sight, dropped off the radar screen. Basically, I  concentrated on writing my dissertation, fathering Ariel, and trying to minimize the medication that was zombifying my mind. That was it. Not a good way to cope. I am a million percent better now.
     I have learned a lot from my experiences. Everything gets better with concerted effort and a humble heart. Negative ideas make negative thoughts (that line credited to Charley). In general, it is all too common and an easy to for us to fall into unthinking patterns of complaining about things that we perceive to be sources of distress or seemingly righteous discontentment. "I hate my job." "My spouse/partner is an unreliable, abusive jerk." "I'm addicted to (food, work, drugs, sex, shopping, violence, power)." "We don't have any money, or any prospects for money." "I'm in constant, intense pain." "The current bellicose U.S. government administration has squandered all of the international good will sown by generations of previous administrations." "My children are lazy and foolish and self-centered." "I'm nervous/emotionally disturbed/forgetful." These things can wear anyone down. However, this holiday season at the end of the year has given me an opportunity to examine what it is that makes life meaningful, and how this brief mortal span can be a positive experience, no matter what the circumstances.
     Often, people approach such self-scrutiny by posing the misleading question: "what is necessary for happiness?" I think that this is misleading because happiness is just a feeling, not a source of ultimate meaning. Some people are "happy" shooting people ("Gee, I'm a good shot! All that target practice sure paid off!") or causing misery to others ("Aha, I WIN!"), or even complaining ("My life is worse than your life and I can prove it!"). On a more reflective level, however, many people smugly state that good health is all that is necessary ("If you have your health, you have everything."), or that just enough money, and no more, brings contentment. Others declare that "love" is the answer, or faith, or hope, or energy. Ultimately, money, health, stuff, relationships, even being "loved", are just parts of life that we may want and desire. They are nice, but not absolutely essential ingredients to real joy (as opposed to just "feeling happy").
     In my opinion, the bottom line is heartfelt gratitude, and the generosity of spirit that ensues. I think that we all have all been given some gift--some recognition (of beauty, of wisdom, of renewal), some abundance (money, food, work, love), some talent, some special knowledge or spiritual enlightenment (or testimonial)--that we can channel to others. If we can endow any of these gifts, even the least of them, we can know deep fulfillment. The catch is that we must give only because we can't not give. Deep gratitude engenders such a spontaneous burst of generosity from the heart and soul. Of course, in addition, such magnanimity must address the real needs of others. (For example, whatever one's intentions, nagging brings no joy to anyone because no one needs or wants it) Actually, there's no revelation here. I'm sure you all have known these things, or something like them, for years. OK, so I'm slow. At least I eventually get there. Let's be in touch this year and catch up on old times. I'm interested in what everyone is doing and how you have used your gifts. My new watchwords are: give it up and pass it on. 
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