Maxim Monday: Honor a benefaction

I actually had to look up what a benefaction is. I figured it meant something positive. It does: a charitable gift or deed. Honor gifts given or good deeds done.

How can we do this? I think a simple ‘thank you’ is always sufficient and in good taste. The art of thank you cards seems to have died out, but are always a nice touch. Sometimes an email or phone call to say thank you can work just as well. Perhaps this means not giving anonymously? Allowing others to thank you for your donations or efforts on their or their organization’s behalf. Perhaps this means praising others that you know give graciously of their time and other resources.

There’s not much to say about this maxim. Merely, simply: thank you.

Maxim Monday: Do what you mean to do

Intention. Do what you mean to do. Do what you say you will do. Follow through.

These phrases are what come to mind with today’s maxim. Along with the aphorism: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. But see, words and desires not followed through on were never really intentional. They were empty words, half-considered actions.

This maxim asks us to do several things. First, we have to decide what it is we want to do. What is it we mean to do? What is the outcome I’m hoping for, or the action I’m trying to perform? Then, we need to mean it. We need to sincerely want to accomplish that action and do the things necessary to make it happen. Finally, we have to Do. We have to follow through and do what we mean to do.

Sometimes, what we mean to do is not what ends up happening once we are mid-action. Or the results are entirely different. I think that’s ok, because with this maxim it is only asking that we intentionally choose what we want to do and then do it. We cannot be responsible for every outcome, although in some cases that is easier to do.

On a bigger scale, I think about this maxim and larger intentions, like loving my husband, educating my children, cultivating my health, growing in my spiritual practice. Those are things I want to do. How can I do those things?

For some one who is usually caught up in a struggle between Doing and Being, I don’t find this maxim triggering at all. In fact, I find it rather soothing. I don’t have to Do everything, only the things I mean to do. Those bigger intentions listed above are not things that happen once or are accomplished in a weekend. They occur over long periods of time, maintained with regular effort. I do not have Do it All in one sitting. No, I just work on what I mean to do, steadily and intentionally.

Today I am feeling rather overwhelmed with the huge lists I’ve made – lists of bills to pay, holiday preparations (both for this week’s Thanksgiving and for the upcoming Yule/Pancha Ganapati/Christmas cluster), and other responsibilities. Today I’m picking a handful of tasks and I will do them. I want to actually accomplish a few things and strike a few things off my list, so I want to be realistic in what and how many tasks I choose. Then I have to follow through, which might mean less tea and internet time. I want to do what I mean to do.

What do you mean to do today?

Maxim Monday: Use your skill

All of us are skilled at something. Maybe you are a violinist, a carpenter, or speak two languages. Maybe you knit or craft or bake the best muffins in your town. Maybe you kick ass at video games, play a mean game of foosball, or know how to carve wooden swords. I don’t know, but I’ll bet all of us are good at more than one thing. So the questions this raises for me are: are you valuing the skills you have? And, how are you using them?

Often times our skills can be put to use for the benefit of others. Sometimes we get to make money with our skills or use them in our day jobs. Many times our skills really shine when we use them for own pleasure.

Whatever your skills are, I encourage you to use them. You’ve likely worked hard to develop them, or at least spent many hours over the course of your life developing the skills you’ve got. Using our skills is a sign of pride in ourselves, can be a gift, a help or a blessing to those around us, and honors the work that we’ve done to hone our skills. Plus, when we use our skills they get better.

I’m good at several things: I am a skilled reader, a decent writer, and I know a lot about religions. I can cook and I can sing. I can organize like a mofo. I am trying to use the first set of skills in a more professional way. I have spent a lot of time, effort and money developing those skills – I’d like to use them!

I cook three hot meals a day for my family; this is an act of love and service. Cooking and hospitality also bring me a lot of joy and weave into the vision I have for my life, my community, and the world at large.

Singing is another skill on which I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money. Not singing seems like a waste of all of that effort. Besides, singing brings me joy, and I’ve also promised Kali I would sing! My husband tells me that my singing brings joy to him and others.

Lastly, I organize my household, but in the past I’ve used this skill extensively in my professional life, and I hope to do so again some day.

All of those skills utilize different aspects of my self. They all bring me different kinds of satisfaction. I am guessing that your skills do similar things for you: tapping into the varied parts of who you are and bringing you pleasure.

Let us value the varied skills we possess and encourage one another to use our skills for joy.

Maxim Monday: Down-look No One

This translation seems really clunky to me. I suppose it means to say “don’t look down on anyone.” If this is the accurate translation, I have to admit that I fail at this one. I don’t suffer fools lightly. As I get older I find I am more patient and compassionate. Those two things help soften and reduce my tendency to condescend.

But basically, I suck at this one. I think the less said, the better.

Maxim Monday: Give back what you have received

I think this is basically an ancient way of saying ‘Pay it forward.’ I absolutely agree with this idea. Now that I have a family, I believe this even more. I can respect and care for my parents, who have given me much for my success in life. But I can pass on the gifts and resources to help my kids succeed as a way of paying forward the generosity shown to me.

And not just my kids, but everyone’s kids. Modern America is a divided society, segregated primarily by class. We have less upwards economic mobility than we have in several generations, and less than most other industrialized nations, particularly Western Europe. Rising inequality is primarily to blame. My husband and I talk about how much easier it was to buy a house and support a family with only one working parent 30 years ago than it is now. Yet, I feel like those of us in our 30s and 40s are still living under the expectations that we can have the lives our parents had, and raise kids the way we were raised. I don’t think it’s possible. At least, not without help.

Giving back, helping others, is much easier if we ourselves have received assistance. It’s easy to judge welfare recipients if we’ve never struggled to pay bills, afford stable housing, or get enough to eat. I guess some people are so used to having others pay their way or handle their struggles for them that they expect others to always bail them out. I’ve met very few of those people in my life. Most people I know have worked hard and accepted help when it’s been needed.

Adam reminds me that perhaps this maxim might be talking about giving back negative things. I don’t know how the actual Greek breaks down. Instinctively, I leaped to the positive interpretation. I’d like not to live in a world where we give back negative for negative. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind, so goes the saying. I’d rather walk away from those who hurt me or create systems of oppression and work instead to pay forward the good.

Too much of politics and parenting seem built around the bitter attitude of ‘well, I had it hard, and I turned out fine, so you shouldn’t have it any easier!’ But what if we didn’t have to work so hard? I’m not talking being lazy and never working diligently for anything. I mean, what if we didn’t have to work obscene hours at menial jobs for pay that doesn’t afford us basic health care? What if we didn’t have to protect children from abuse and neglect? What if we didn’t have fear walking down the street at night? What if we didn’t have to have bars on our windows and make certain we locked every door? Why can’t we make it easier for our descendents?

So I’ll be voting for things that make others’ lives easier. I’ll be raising my kids with every resource that’s been given to me. I’ll be donating regularly, even when times are tough, to area organizations doing the same. (This last one is also enlightened self-interest. Who knows when I might need assistance?) Paying it forward, giving back what you have received, is a form of gratitude. Gratitude is an antidote to bitterness. Gratitude is also a powerful way to make our families and communities better, healthier, happier, stronger units.

Maxim Monday: Test the Character

I feel like this one is incomplete, as in an incomplete sentence. Test the character of what? But I suspect this one is telling us to test the character of the people around us.

Knowing of what sort of character our friends and family are made of is a good idea. Can we trust them? Do their words and actions line up? But I don’t think we actually need to test anyone’s character. If we just pay attention we’ll find that people reveal their character regularly. In my experience, life is full of tests of character; there is no need for me to go adding in extra tests.

Maybe this one means testing our own character. To that I repeat, life is full of challenges and tests of our character. There is no need to set ourselves up for more tests. And yet, when tests and challenges come up, we can embrace them as tests. Sometimes we discover that we’re weaker in some areas or under some circumstances than we realized. So then we can reflect and hopefully strengthen ourselves for the future.

May we all score an A+ in the tests to come.

Maxim Monday: Consult the Wise

I love this one, and it’s one I have problems doing myself.

Who are the wise? They are those trusted souls who have walked before us. They might be elders in our family or communities. They can be authors of books. They could be our mentors, teachers, or spiritual leaders. Maybe even one of our friends is especially wise. Many of the people around us have struggled with the same questions or tried some version of a similar task or quest. All we have to do is reach out and ask, “How did you do it? What was your experience? What did you learn?”

And that’s the part I struggle with. I am so independent that I too often forget to consult the wise ones around me. I storm forward. I ask for forgiveness, never for permission. This kind of boldness and initiative is often a blessing. I am rarely stymied by others’ opinions of my abilities. My courage muscles are well flexed. But this kind of independence can be a weakness too, as I have to learn the hard way. I also deprive the people around me of being more intimately involved in my life. I miss out on the wisdom of the wise in my life.

Consulting the wise can bring perspective and sometimes that perspective isn’t what I want to hear. I don’t want to ask permission, because what if the response is No? What if the wise tell me to wait? As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more receptive and open to reaching out to others for advice and assistance. I have cultivated relationships with many people whom I trust and respect, and who have a wealth of diverse experiences. I know I have much to learn from them, and I trust that they love who I am.

At its core, this Maxim is yet another one reminding us the value of listening (to ourselves, to our gods, to each other) and of interdependence. We need each other. And I definitely need to be reminded to consult the wise more often than I do!