Daily Guide — March 2006



Joyous Gard: Daily Guide
March 2006 ~ Day 1  Sympathy


 It’s difficult to think in ways and of things that aren’t familiar to you. Most of the time, it’s even hard to try and put yourself in someone else’s shoes. And yet we all want to be understood, don’t we? We don’t want someone to merely agree with us if he or she doesn’t really believe or understand our opinion.

I appreciate the honesty and sincerity of someone who struggles to understand my thoughts and opinions. I’d much rather face the grist of disagreement than the salve of unfounded sympathy. It’s important, I think, to listen and consider other opinions. But it’s equally important to hold on to your beliefs in the face of loud opposition. A sympathetic friend is one who understands your nature and knows the value of the things that are meaningful to you.

Day 1 Guide

You don’t have to concede your beliefs or your values to be sympathetic. You have only to listen and try to understand another’s opinion or situation.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide

March 2006 ~ Day 2 Science

  


A Finch Song

Scientific studies of the zebra finch songbird show that sleep has some unusual effects on the bird’s memory. In a recent study, scientists discovered that newborn finches learned to sing by practicing and mimicking the sounds of mature birds. They noted the improvement of their song(s) throughout the day. But they also discovered something strange about these subject finches. During the early morning hours following a day of practice, their singing was actually terrible, even after they’d just practiced the day before. It was almost as if they were starting over every morning.

As the day progressed, however, the finches’ songs would improve until by the end of the day they were actually singing even better than they were at the start of the prior day. This cycle of two steps forward and one step back was repeatedly seen by researchers during this particular study of zebra finches.

Learning for me seems to work in a way similar to that of the finch. I recall, for example, studying well into the night for school exams but feeling unprepared the following morning. It was only after a couple of hours passed that I felt better able to recall the content that I’d studied the night prior. And by the end of the day I actually felt as though I knew material even better than the day I had studied – two steps forward and one step back.

It’s important to recognize your own personal rhythms. When are you best able to learn? What are the best times for you to read a book or a practice a skill? Are there times when you feel most alive and confident about life? Some people are hardly able to speak before they have a few cups of morning coffee. I find it hard to focus my attention on any serious matter after about 8:00PM.

Day 2 Guide

Like the zebra finches, we have specific times when our brains are working at their peak levels. Take time this week to find out when your brain is in the best shape to learn. Try reading or working on problems at different times during the day. When do you feel that you have the best ideas? Find the time when you brain is most alive.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide

March 2006 ~ Days 3-5 Work


Rooftops

About four times a year I have to deal with an accumulation of pine straw on my roof. A good wind will sometimes take care of about half of the needles that fall from nearby Loblolly Pines. But some areas on my roof just seem to like holding on to the debris. In order to get it totally cleared away I have to call my friend Dan – “Dan the Tree Man.”

Dan continues to call himself “The Tree Man,” despite the fact that he’s grown a bit tentative about climbing the big ones. You see, several years ago, he took a 50 ft fall from a tree that he was trimming. He landed on his back and broke his arm, leg, and several of his ribs. Naturally, he’s more cautious now.

It’s hard to find someone who’s willing to work up on a roof. Most “tree people” are usually just interested in trees, and the handymen, well they generally don’t like climbing on roofs. But rooftops are the perfect “climb” for my man Dan — “Dan the Tree Man.” And it’s good to see that the man who survived that 50 ft fall isn’t afraid to continue climbing ladders and walking on roofs.

Does it ever feel like there are some places in your brain where debris gets stuck? Sometimes I feel like I have pockets of things that I’ve not yet dealt with – pockets of hidden sorrows or regrets, strained relationships or an unforgiving spirit. It’s almost easier, I think, to deal with the stark and heavy burdens of the mind. They must be dealt with, right? But the small things — well it’s like they’re almost too easy to live with. They tend to remain there: trapped.

The spirit of Joyous Gard radiates an unceasing desire to free the mind cluttered with debris. It’s also the spirit that’s willing and wanting to help others clear their minds and enjoy the rooftops of life.

Day 3 Guide

Take time in the next few days to inventory the things that might be cluttering your mind. What’s really stopping you?

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide

March 2006 ~ Day 6 Hope

  


The landscape of creative thought is a space unencumbered by the self-imposed limiters that so often frustrate the free flow of ideas. The “duties and obligations” of life sometimes stand in the way of a hope that would otherwise take us flying, as if on the wings of an eagle. In a silly attempt to form fit time into our own schedules, we miss out on the quiet flow of a stream and the sound of the birds – things that better tell of time’s passage.

A turn-of-the-century composer, Edward MacDowell, must have recognized these things when he bought a farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire – a farm that was later transformed into a colony for artists. It was there that MacDowell produced some of his best music. The stillness and peace of nature must have provided the sense of timelessness that is important for creativity. His experience there also proved to be the stimulus for a greater thought, that of bringing other artists together, retreating to the farm and working on projects to advance their own particular art-forms.

Recognizing the merit of MacDowell’s idea, a handful of the most wealthy and influential men of the day – J.P Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, and Grover Cleveland, to name a few – funded the effort and named the MacDowell Colony in honor of its founder. Since 1906, The MacDowell Colony has provided the climate that so inspired its founder to create new and important works of art.

Over the years, thousands of artists have benefited from the collaborative and inspiring environment of the MacDowell Colony. In a recent featured article in the “Wall Street Journal,” nonfiction writer Jane Bronx says this of the Colony: “Almost everyone has an internal expectation when they come here.”

That “internal expectation” to which Bronx refers is hope, the hope of a something new.

Day 3 Guide

One of the essentials for creativity is hope. And hope is best thought of as “an expectation of things desired.” What do you expect of today, my friend? What do you desire?

For more information on The MacDowell Colony: http://www.macdowellcolony.org/

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide

March 2006 ~ Day 7 Experience

  


Hard experiences might build character, but they’re certainly not the kind of the thing that you eagerly await. No one wants to face hardship, though hardship will definitely be a part of your experience. Just the fear of facing difficulty keeps many of us from living well. When fear grips your spirit it is impossible to meet the day with strength and confidence.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” – Psalm 23

For me, it takes more than the knowledge of God’s existence to arrest my fears. It seems that I must sense the comfort of His strength in the face of painful experiences. It’s then that I best know and feel His presence. I believe that the very foil of evil is the exposure of the believer’s strength buried within the burden of difficulty itself.

Day 7 Guide

Pray for the comfort that would remove the fear of shadows.

© 2006, Levi Hill



Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 8 Faith

  


Paved Paradise

It’s not one of my favorite things to do: shop at one of the huge retailers, like Wal-Mart or Home Depot. I get easily confused in the middle of big crowds. And the traffic – sometimes I think it’s almost more dangerous to drive in the parking lot than it is on the open road. Despite my feelings, I — like the rest of America — typically go to the “big boxes” on the weekends. But I’ve often thought that it’d be smart to wait and go in the “off hours” — at night or early in the mornings. And tonight, well, I was sold on the fact that that is exactly what I’ll try to do in the future.

I was tired and in no mood to get back out on the road, but I felt like I needed to make the trip to Lowe’s. There were just a few things I needed, and I’d made a personal commitment earlier to have them in hand by the end of the day. So I pushed myself to follow through, got in my car at about 8 PM and headed out into the night.

On the way to Lowe’s I passed by a local Radio Shack and remembered that I needed a couple of camera batteries. I stopped and hurried to the door since I thought they might be near closing. Well, they were, and I was their last customer for the day. That was sort of nice. The store was quiet and clean, and I had the full attention of the manager who helped me with the batteries. Without any trouble, I got what I needed and continued on my way to the “big box,” Lowe’s.

The first thing that struck me when I turned into the parking lot was just how big it looked with only a handful of cars parked there. For the first time, I got a space near the front door. Wow, that was nice.

Walking in, I noticed that this place where I’d shopped so many times just didn’t’ feel the same. There was something markedly different. The aisles felt nice and wide, the floors were clean, and there were very few shoppers walking around. And unlike most days, it was quiet; I think I even heard a little background music playing. Can you imagine that? No noise in Lowe’s? It was wonderful, so nice in fact that I just wanted to hang out for a while. I even started looking at things that I really didn’t even need.

It’s not so much the crowd that bothers me, it’s the confusion. And that’s’ typically what I feel when I shop at one of these mega-retail centers: confusion. I feel like I’m competing with others to get my stuff and get out as quickly as possible. I quess I’m just not a good weekend warrior: I’m not one to win the attention of the salesperson or to get the prime spot in the parking lot. And tonight was further confirmation that I’m better able to manage when I’m a little out of sync with the world.

Do you ever feel like that? I believe that God must equip some people to move better in the shadows and the trails of life than in the mainstream. I don’t believe that it’s a character flaw to feel more comfortable on the periphery. I think that God maybe wants me there; there must be something that He wants me to find in the corners.

Day 8 Guide

The spirit of Joyous Gard is one of self-understanding. Who am I? And in what ways has God uniquely equipped me to make a difference? Am I to stand in the light, or search the shadows?

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 9 Progress


How would you chart your progress? Are you making any headway?

To answer those questions, I guess you’d first like to know what I’m referring to, right? Am I talking about your health, your work, or your intellect? What if I asked whether you were making any progress in your enjoyment of life? Would that be something you could answer?

The spirit of Joyous Gard is one that yearns for constant improvement in the enjoyment of life. Do you marvel at a purple sky that holds the sleepy star? Does it ever surprise you to find just how quickly a child can soak up knowledge? Do the feelings that you have for another sweeten your days?

Progress in life is the measure of how much and how often you’re willing to draw from your experiences in order to make your present days shine. To put it simply, this progress that I’m referring to is the very measure of happiness and joy.

Some may think that I’m short-sighted in my focus on happiness. Happiness, they argue, isn’t a worthy end for the mind of a believer. It should be joy, joy in the things greater than this world, joy in eternity and in a life pleasing to God to which we should aim. Happiness is hollow and shallow, they say: here today, gone tomorrow.

And it’s true, happiness is ephemeral, which is more the reason to practice and build the habits of happiness. What force is it that leads you up the mountain every day? What habits will move you daily to discover the riches that God puts before you. Maybe the smile that you overlooked was the smile that was intended to change your day. The love that you have no time for could be the very connection to help free your soul.

God, I believe, works in the both the light and the shadows of this world offering these small pieces of joy we call happiness. These segments of life that do seem to come and go – these instances of happiness – must be sought every day as riches freely given to us by God.

Day 9 Guide

Happiness is but a sliver of paradise and a demonstration of God’s continued presence in the world. Be careful not to devalue the power of great moments.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Days 10-14 The Sense of Beauty

  


Remember

If I could just remember

All the times

I’ve spent with you —

The lazy walks

The midnight talks

The sleepless thoughts when love was new.

If I could for a moment

Light them

In my mind,

My world would be a

Heavenly place

None better left to find.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 15 The Principle of Beauty

  


Standing some five-hundred and fifty feet high and reaching, it seems, to the heavens, the obelisk of the Washington Monument symbolizes the birth of a new republic. Her white solid lines stand in stark contrast to the curvature of the neighboring moon, which herself must be sculpted of the same Georgia marble.

Seeing such an awesome wonder, I want to be left alone in my thoughts. I want time to let those lines take me on an endless journey.

Day 15 Guide

Look again. Take another look at the world and discover how the ordinary elements of a day or the common backgrounds of life might lift you from apathy. Try to look at things from different angles, knowing that beauty is not in the thing itself but rather in its meaning.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 16 Life

  


My grandfather, Gibbs, always had a trick up his sleeve. I was rather young when he died, but not too young to remember his magic. Whenever I saw him, he would pull a coin from his pocket and hold it between his middle finger and his thumb. And then, with a quick snap, the coin would disappear, returning to his palm only after he would seemingly retrieve it from behind my ear.

Another of his favorites involved an ordinary piece of string, which, like the coin, he always had readily available. First, he would fold the segment of string down the middle and cut it in half using his pocket knife. With his fingers, he would quickly tie the ends back together using a simple knot and put the knotted pair between his lips. After a few quick chewing motions, he would remove the string to reveal that it was no longer knotted. Magically, the string was restored to its original uncut condition.

Maybe the thought of knots reminds you of problems or irreconcilable tangles. And life, unfortunately, gives us enough of those, doesn’t it? But you could also think of knots as points of important interferences or intersections. I, for one, like to think of knots as life events – things that I will ultimately remember and cherish. If time is the string of life’s passing, then events are the knots – or intersections – of happenings that make life more interesting. I think of love as the intertwining of lives — the merging of souls or the marriage of two strings to form a beautiful knot.

Day 16 Guide

Living well means tying more knots. Don’t let the string of time pass without giving yourself the chance to find meaningful intersections. Don’t let fear stop you from getting tangled up in life and love.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Days 17-19 Ideas


Feeling good is just one thought away.

My experience tells me that turning-the-corner is a simple matter of having one captivating thought. But even that’s sometimes hard to muster, isn’t it? I don’t know, to me it just seems that the tedium of life carries with it a certain momentum — that it’s hard to shake the blues. Do you ever feel that way?

So how do you give yourself a chance to have that great thought? Generally speaking, I think you ought to try doing the things that you know would be profitable but that you probably feel least like doing. If you’ve ever learned to play a musical instrument, you will recall just how hard it was to start practicing. It was work to get “into it,” wasn’t it? That barrier is real, and without disciplined action, you’re apt to remain in the warmth of inactivity.

Day 17 Guide

Make a list of things that turn you on — a spring rain, a sunset, a memory, a place, a great book, or a song. List also the things that you enjoy doing – dancing, riding a motorcycle, playing golf. The list will help you recall these things when you’re “down” and feeling uninspired. Put it in an easy place to find, and then on the days when you feel like you’re starting to lose your edge, review it and remind yourself of the things that would help to restore those great feelings.

The principle at work: When you least feel like it, turn on the music or invite a friend to go to the bookstore for a cup of coffee.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 20 Poetry

  


Sometimes I find myself struggling to be patient in life — a feeling that, I’m sure, is quite common these days. It’s easy to be uptight; we’re all trying so hard to squeeze more from our time, wanting to do everything but willing to give up very little. The quiet habits of reading, writing, conversing, listening and thinking have been displaced by tight schedules that demand a terribly awkward use of the mind.

Do you ever stop and think, “something’s just not right; life shouldn’t be like this.” Well, it’s true. Life shouldn’t be like that. But how do you change it?

I think it’s important to work on the mental habits that consistently take you back to home-base, the quiet and reflective state of mind that is the spirit of Joyous Gard. It is from this vantage point that you will find life most meaningful; it is from here that connections appear most vivid and the feelings of love and desire are most intense.

Day 18 Guide

A mind drunk with an endless steam of tasks is a mind that will rarely sense the pleasures of Joyous Gard. In order to maintain the good habits of mind in today’s setting, you must sometimes shock your thought-system.

Remove yourself from the steady drip of news for a week or so; go to a museum or the public library and read or think about a place you’ve never been. It’s been said that today is a time of unlimited opportunity. But beware of the traps that confine your mind to much less that you really deserve. And rest assured that the pleasures of the mind far outweigh those of fame or fortune.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 21 Poetry and Life

  


All the sounds of the earth are like music,

All the sounds of the earth are like music,

The breeze is so busy it don’t miss a tree,

And an ol’ Weepin’ Willer is laughin’ at me.

Oh what a beautiful morning

Oh what a beautiful day

I’ve got a wonderful feeing.

Everything’s going my way.

Oh What a Beautiful Morning, from the musical, Oklahoma

How and when do such rich thoughts enter your life, friend? Do you ever feel like “everything’s going your way?” Why, it’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it – to feel good and satisfied? But many would argue that searching for such happiness is just a waste of time and that its source dried up many years ago – before life grew so complicated and serious. “Just look at the world,” they say. “Look at the poverty, the crime, and the ever-present threat of terrorism. Fear is all that we should feel.”

But in my opinion, this is all the more reason to commit to the quest for happiness. It would seem to me that something as rare would be a treasure worth the effort.

Day 20 Guide

Don’t give up. Sure, things might be more difficult these days. But God’s hand is omnipresent. Try your best to silence the noise of a frantic world and find the peace that would put a smile back on your face.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 22 Art

  


Art — great art – provides us with a most inspiring and uncluttered view of reality. Any particular work is by itself a concise commentary on some meaningful aspect of life. Art provokes the mind without confusing one’s own consciousness so that enjoying great art is to sense a reality cleansed of non-essentials.

Day 19 Guide

Select a particular work of art that you enjoy – a story, a poem, a painting – and try to identify what it is about the work that draws you in.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 23 Art and Morality


Art – it’s the first thing to go when school budgets get tight, isn’t it? I suppose that local school boards and school officials consider the subject of art to be less practical than the sciences. Ours is a generation that considers math and science to be the twin pillars of strength.

But was it science that imagined the idea of our American republic? Was it mathematical know-how that gave the Constitution its backbone? I think we deserve more than to consider ourselves beings able to thrive solely on the wheels of progress. Life, with all of its intricate folds and secrets, is a vast wonderland filled with human emotion. As far as I can tell, we are far less “calculating” than we are “feeling” beings.

Art is a celebration of the many things that make us human: innovation and achievement, yes – but also the strange attractors of love and beauty and our intense desire to know our origin and our creator. Our desire is to be not alone “in the garden” but to have others with whom to share experience. And this, too, is the subject of art.

And so why, I wonder, would something so personal and so terribly important be first on the list of things that are expendable? Surely, art has something important to teach us. And if it does, then shouldn’t we consider it important to teach?

The most innovative and progressive thinkers in all of history, the Greeks, were master builders, engineers and mathematicians. But they were also pioneers in the arts of drama, poetry, and philosophy. One of their most celebrated teachers, Plato, was also one of their greatest poets.

Day 22 Guide

Let’s get past the idea that art is optional. Our souls thirst; we feel; we love; we hate. Most of what goes on in our heads is better the subject of art than of any math or science. The spirit of Joyous Gard would have you to be an advocate for art. Don’t settle for a future void of soul.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Days 24-27 Interpretation

  


Interpreting life requires first that you have a key to translate the “babble” of events into a language that you might understand – the language of meaning. Just imagine having a keen, unbroken sense that every moment of event event of every day was essential to the fulfillment of a divine purpose. Consider the safety of being armed with the knowledge that you’re caught in God’s ordained timeline and that He is using your course in life to complete His mission.

Okay, maybe this all sounds a bit unrealistic (to think in terms of a divine plan, i.e.). But think “big” for a moment, and consider the importance of your actions and your choices. Think of their effect on yourself and those around you. It’s hard to really even know how you might influence those near you, isn’t it? Who knows, without even realizing it, you could be helping others to find life more satisfying and meaningful.

Days 24-28 Guide

Spend this one day reminding yourself that your every move might be leading to the fulfillment of a divine purpose. Be alert to the many opportunities that God puts before you.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 28 Education

  


Attitude – it’s one of the most important factors affecting your ability to learn. Are you at all curious about the subject matter? And are you prepared to put forth the effort? It’s hard sometimes to have a good learning attitude, isn’t it? But to learn you must be attentive and have a real desire to know.

Maybe you’re like me and find that good “learning moods” tend to come and go. On some days you might be excited about the acquisition of new knowledge, but on others – well, maybe you’d just rather sit in front of the boob tube.

Having something to anticipate helps me to get through the rough spots. I love Fridays, for example. It’s normally when I’m at my best — feeling the most productive and energetic. But we’re all different; I’ve talked with a number of people who say they feel lethargic by the end of the week. When Friday rolls around, they’re just beat.

Something to Anticipate — that’s the idea that I want to leave you with today. By giving yourself something to look forward to, you will help boost your energy levels and excite your mind to soak up the knowledge.

Day 28 Guide

Think about your own learning cycles. What elements are usually present when your mind is stimulated and you sense that elevated desire to know? Don’t wait for conditions to change but rather learn to control your environment. On the days that you’re most likely to feel out of sync, plan something to anticipate.

© 2006, Levi Hill


Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 29 Knowledge

  


The thought of knowledge invokes in me the mental image of crowded highways routing automobiles in and around a big city. I think of the brain routing bits of varied information, which, much like speeding cars, cross, meet and merge with other bits to generate new patterns of knowledge and understanding.

Sometimes, however, the brain is quiet. And like Sunday morning freeways, the roads of thought are barren and wide and full of unused capacity. Freeways are designed for anticipated peak usage, with enough lanes and exits to handle rush hour traffic. The brain, I believe, is similarly engineered for those integrated thoughts and feelings that accompany the rush hour of thought. The mental processes of learning and thinking route information down neural highways to merge with and meet other streams of information in order to form an integrated whole, a collection called knowledge.

Day 29 Guide

It’s nice sometimes to travel down those wide Sunday morning freeways of thought. But the knowledge that so satisfies the human’s desire to understand is acquired by the heavy flow of mental traffic — thinking. This week consider how you might increase the traffic and flow of information in your brain. Make a list of five books that you’d like to read over the summer.

© 2006, Levi Hill



Joyous Gard: Daily Guide              

March 2006 ~ Day 30 Growth


Looking back in time, I feel as though my expectations about the future have become more realistic. In truth, I’ve gradually lowered my expectations, until now, they’re more in line with the natural cycles of life.

The disappointment of foiled effort and the heartbreak of failure don’t get me down like they used to. I’ve come to expect that failure will be my experience far more than will success. I know, too, that the rarity of victory makes it all the sweeter.

I realize that difficulty or problems will most always arise when I’m trying my hardest, a fact that almost seems unfair. But I tell myself, “Don’t despair. It’s just one of those cosmic laws of the universe: problems thwart only those who are trying to do something!”

Then, like a cool breeze, there are those exceptional days, the neat occasions when all things seem to come together in just the right way — when the puzzle pieces of a busy day all seem to fit and there is absolutely no waste of time or effort.

Am I a pessimist to lower my expectations? Not from my vantage point. I am brimming with desire and passion for the future. There are hundreds of things that I still want to do, and I believe that my vision for fulfillment is much clearer today that it was five, ten or twenty years ago.

Day 30 Guide

Don’t let your age stop you from thinking about the future. A mind that is growing is one that is seeing ever more clearly the lines and the contours of life.

© 2006, Levi Hill

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