Daily Guide — September 2005

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 1 Knowledge

A few years ago, I witnessed a strange phenomenon in my house. Walking down the stairs, I would sometimes sense the faint smell of smoke, as if something were burning. Trying to locate the source of that smell drove me crazy, and even though my children and wife detected it, they could never determine its source either. Most every time I walked up the stairs I was reminded of its presence, and invariably I’d spend a few minutes trying to again track down its source.

Finally, one of my children suggested that the smell might indicate the presence of something mysterious, like a ghost. “A ghost,” I thought. “That’s nuts.” I didn’t believe in ghosts. But as the days wore on and that smell kept appearing, I began to wonder myself: “Where in the hell is this smell coming from? Certainly, it couldn’t be a ghost. Could it?”

I guess my curiosity got the best of me, and I started searching Google for “ghosts” AND “smoke smell.” Surprisingly, I found a number of websites that described exactly what we were witnessing: the strange smell of smoke with no known source. And in such a case as mine, the websites seemed to suspect the presence of the paranormal, in other words, a ghost.

Okay, I must admit that my natural disbelief in ghosts and UFOs started to waiver a bit. And in fact, I even started thinking it might be sort of cool to have a ghost in our house. I was sort of getting used to the idea.

A month or so after I had originally discovered the smell, our handyman was doing some work in the house, and I told him about it. I led him up the steps, hoping that he too might witness that faint smokey scent. And, in fact, he did.

“That’s strange, isn’t it?” I said. But he didn’t say a word. Instead, he quietly turned around, slowly walked to the base of the stairs and looked back at where he’d sensed the smell. He stopped for a moment to think.

He then opened the basement door as he pulled out his screwdriver, and he started removing the switch plate for the basement’s light switch. There he found the culprit, an old frayed wire touching the wooden stud inside the wall, occasionally causing a spark to burn a spot on the wood. “You’re lucky I found it,” he said. “This little wire could’ve set your house on fire.”

Well, I never did tell my handyman that I suspected a ghost. Instead, I simply agreed with him and asked him to please fix the damned switch.

Knowledge is great, isn’t it?

Day 1 Guide

Sometimes it’s neat to contemplate the mysteries in life. But other times, it’s better to have a clear understanding of things. Start this month with an effort to understand your own emotions. Ask yourself probing questions and try to determine the nature of your own psychology.

When I go through periods of frustration or anxiety I find that it sometimes helps to write down all of the possible culprits. I know it sounds simple, but once I’ve identified the things that are making me anxious, the scope of my work has essentially been defined, and I can begin to go to work.

It’s best to get rid of the “ghosts” and have your light switch repaired.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Days 2-5 Growth


Twenty-five years ago I joined a local health club called European Health Spa. At the entrance of the facility stood this huge statue of Atlas, the Greek god, who with unparalleled strength, held the world on his shoulders. Every time I entered the spa I looked up at Atlas and wondered if by working out I could have such a physique. Well, I never got there, and now — twenty-five years later — I’m just fighting to keep off the additional pounds and maintain the few muscles that I do have.

On the day I joined the club, a trainer led me through the weight-room and explained how to use each piece of equipment; he taught me the basic rules of working with weights. “Lifting heavy weights with fewer repetitions,” he said, “would build bulk (bigger muscles), while lifting lighter weights with more repetitions would build greater definition.”

To me, it seemed like a choice – either to sculpt muscles or build them up. Well, I went for the bulk. And though I was never too strong, I endured the greater pain of lifting the heavier weights, hoping that one day I’d look like Atlas’ younger brother.

I realize now that I should have thought of muscular fitness from both angles – using the heavy weights to fill in some areas of my body but also the light weights to tone muscles and keep them in shape.

I have also determined that just as important as a plan for physical fitness is a plan for the further development and toning of one’s emotional and intellectual faculties. I see myself, for example, needing not only greater intellectual bulk (knowledge) but also greater emotional refinement. In addition to knowing more, I want to improve the way I respond to the world. I want to maintain a more honest and mature appraisal of life and my purpose here on earth.

Days 2-5 Guide

Use the Joyous Gard Cycle of Days as an outline for your own “life plan.” The individual days identify important areas of fitness: ideas, knowledge, emotion, work, humor and sympathy. I believe that one’s psychological fitness is best realized by instituting a plan to work on all of these human essentials.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 6 Emotion

Like many people I’ve been watching a lot of the coverage of the devastation in the gulf region. But because of what newscasters are now calling The Blame Game, it seems that emotions are polarized, with feelings of sympathy, sadness and hope on one end and those of anger and frustration on the other. I don’t know about you, but I find it unfortunate that the beautiful spirit of people helping people is being constantly challenged by the forces of politics and small-mindedness.

Let me watch and hear of the life stories that pour from this region. Like many in the world, I want to mourn the loss of life and sympathize with the victims of such devastation. Mine is more than simply an interest in an event of great magnitude; it is a desire to feel and wrestle with the emotions of loss and hope.

Day 6 Guide

Don’t let the direction of network news rob you of your senses of loss and sadness for the people in this region. Hold on to the emotions that give you pause and allow you to shed a tear.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 7 Memory

Yesterday I attended a funeral for one of my father’s best friends, Frank. Having suffered with a virulent form of cancer, Frank remained the man of hope and optimism. He said that he was going to beat the odds and that he refused to let his sickness get him down.

His good friend, Rosie, spoke at the funeral and told of her relationship with the eighty-four year old World War II veteran, a man who was part of what Tom Brokaw called “the greatest generation.” She spoke of Frank as determined, forward looking, and having a voracious appetite for reading. She painted a picture of a man interested in the “workings” of this world and of a mind that seemed to be of a much younger spirit. He enjoyed business and investment, and he especially enjoyed the company of people – people of all ages.

He loved my father, and my father loved him. And even though both men lost their wives within the last few years, they seemed determined not to withdraw from life. Instead, they chose to seek and renew what life that they had left. Frank used his time wisely, enjoying friendships and family, and continuing also to keep his mind focused on the “work at hand.” To the end, Frank refused to surrender. And even when he finally saw that his body was not going to allow him to go any further, he sought instead another place, the place where he could live forever. Listen to Rosie’s closing remarks:

“Not long before he Frank lost consciousness he sang a song. And that was unusual because Frank really couldn’t sing. But I can think of no sweeter thing than to hear his weakened voice singing these lines:

Show me the way to go home

I’m tired and I want to go to bed

I had a little drink about an hour ago

And it went right to my head

Where ever I may roam

On land or sea or foam

You will always hear me singing this song

Show me the way to go home

You’re home, Frank.”

Day 7 Guide

Think today of the men and women who even until death, sought life — those who felt it an honor and a privilege to lend a helping hand, show a friendly smile, or engineer a way to solve a problem.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 8 Retrospect

I don’t like cleaning the kitchen. But most nights I do it anyway. My wife and I sort of have this unwritten division of labor where it’s understood that she takes care of some things and I take care of others. Well, the kitchen has generally been my baby. I’m not complaining. In fact, I’d like to pay myself a compliment: I am one hell of a “kitchen man.” And despite a continued distaste for the job, I do it, and I do it well.

I’ve learned that in life even the smallest tasks are worth observation and review. I believe that I can improve my daily life by incorporating slight improvements in my habits, even if those habits weren’t of my own choosing. Much of what I do to see positive change is the result of intentionally reshaping habits and aiming a bit higher.

I’d challenge anyone today to stack a neater dishwasher.

Day 8 Guide

Today, look within; look at your own practices and habits. Think of how you might improve even the simplest of things in order to move all of life in a positive direction. Consider the following definition of discipline as it relates to living well: discipline is the strength to do what you ought, not what you want.

Sure, you’re going to hate some things in life. That’s a given. Try, however, not to hate what you’re doing. Look at the simple practices and try to make them better.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Days 9-11 Humor

I remember the day in Athens that my friends and I went to play golf. The attendant at the desk welcomed us to the course and gingerly got up out of her chair to sign us in. Giving her my credit card, I noticed that she seemed rather uncomfortable. “Are you feeling okay?” I asked.

 “Oh, yes. I’m fine. My back is hurting a bit, but I’ll be going to hospital in about a month.”

Quickly assessing her condition, I responded: “Well, I know you’re excited. Are you having a girl or a boy?”

 “Neither,” she said. “I’m having lower-back surgery.”

Having put my foot in my mouth, I apologized, turned red, signed the receipt and got the hell out of the building. And as I remember, I didn’t play too well that day. But my friends, they got a real big charge out of my bumbling.

I swore to never again ask a woman about her pregnancy. And I’m proud to say that I’ve spent the last twenty-five years keeping my mouth shut, even when it seems awkward to say nothing in the face of what might seem to be an obvious condition.

The funniest things often times happen at someone’s expense – maybe yours. But that’s okay. Just be prepared for a handful of “big” embarrassing moments during a lifetime, and then spend time looking back to find a few good laughs.

Days 9-11 Guide

It’d be great this weekend to spend some time talking to friends and thinking back on the funny things that have happened over the years.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 12 Visions

Sometimes I feel like other people get the hang of life quicker than I do. My perspective is slow to mature, and it seems to take me a long time to figure out how things really work. But I also believe that nothing escapes the timing of God’s plan and that all I know and all I do manifest in perfect time.

Day 12 Guide

Be diligent but also be patient. God will reward your efforts with the sure knowledge that you are an active and important part of His plan.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 13 Thought

Normally I don’t like traveling on the road. Driving for more than two or three hours is tiring, and my mind becomes restless. But there is one trip that I have always enjoyed, and that’s the drive from Athens, GA back to Augusta in the late afternoon. Highway 78 isn’t very crowded at that time of day, and the familiar landscape of farm houses, hay fields and pine trees is quite pretty in the light of the late afternoon sun. Driving east, the sun is at my back, giving its final glow to the road ahead.

I rarely turn on the radio when I have such a great opportunity to think. I see the trip back from Athens as a perfect time to gather my thoughts, generate ideas and prioritize my activities. The short trip (1-1/2 hrs) restores my mind and puts me at ease. I feel rested and rejuvenated when I finally arrive home.

I used to routinely make this trip when I was attending the University of Georgia. And while my trips to Athens are much less frequent today, I still try to make my plans for Friday travel. The thought of coming home to enjoy a weekend night with family and friends just makes the trip that much better.

Day 13 Guide

What is your ideal setting for thought? When and where are you best able to develop ideas and makes plans? Focus on visiting this setting more often and committing time to your mind. Sometimes the best thing you can do for those around you is to spend a little time by yourself — gathering, collecting and prioritizing. Ideas tend to manifest as integrations of two or more thoughts, and the mind needs time to acquire and synthesize these thoughts.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 14 Accessibility

I’m not terribly well-traveled so I’m not sure how people in other parts of the country generally tend to interrelate. But I can tell you this: we southerners tend to do a lot of hugging. The “man-hug” thing, which seems to have become a current point of interest in pop television culture, is really old news in the South. We’ve been hugging for years. Why a good hug goes right along with beer drinking and country music.  The far greater pleasure, however, is hugging a female friend that you haven’t seen in a while (maybe a day or two). Okay, maybe I’m old fashioned, but sometimes a handshake just isn’t sufficient.

For those of you who aren’t natural huggers, let me offer my technical analysis of its value: a hug breaks down all sorts of barriers. It strips one of his defenses and offers a glimpse of the guarded spirit. A hug isn’t proud or boastful but rather a symbol of humility and peace. A hug is a display of affection and trust, a belief in similar values or a symbol of comfort.

Day 14 Guide

You guessed it: hug someone today.

Note: It’s not appropriate – even in the South — to hug everyone that you come in contact with. Reserve it for special friends, great relationships or special times. Be sure to still keep a strong handshake handy.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 15 Sympathy

I think it was the ruling British prime-minister Margaret Thatcher who accused then President George Bush of waffling on a particular issue. It’s just naturally more respectable to be solid in a position than it is to waiver and be unsure of which side to take. Leaders promote security and trust by demonstrating sureness and consistency.

But getting along with other people sometimes requires a bit of give and take. There are times, I believe, when it’s important to suspend your position and listen to the other side – listen to what it is that supports an alternative opinion. It’s not a sign of weakness to entertain other viewpoints but rather a show of strength that you would even be open to change.

Certainly there are times when one must take a stand and hold a position. But a position of strength most often results from having entertained alternatives and finding that an original position is well founded even in the face of its combatants. Listening leads one naturally to great questions and important conversations. Now, I’m not saying that you should waffle. Take a position, but also know how you arrived there.

Day 15 Guide

Try to understand the nature of someone else’s opinion by asking questions; you might find yourself in the middle of an important conversation.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Days 16-18 Science

Laughter – it’s essential, isn’t it? I feel that I’m not really living well if I’ve spent too many days not laughing. Some scientific studies even claim that laughter is an important element in maintaining one’s own physiological health. And based on my own experience, I would certainly agree with that claim. In fact, the science seems only to confirm the obvious fact that the response of laughter is an important mechanism for the relief of tension or anxiety.

Think about it. At one time or another haven’t you said, “I can’t remember when I’ve laughed so hard?” It’s a statement that implies the need for a good laugh, as if something had been sorely missing from your diet of life.

This past weekend, I had a great time laughing with friends. We had a good time telling stories, making fun of each other, and generally just playing the fool. I consider such times to be the elixir for living well, and I believe that there is a special place and a purpose for laughter in the soul.

Days 16-18 Guide

Laughter is good for the soul. Do your best to find something to laugh about every day.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Days 19-21 Work

“I’m pretty ugly, ain’t I?” That’s what my roofer, James, told me when he first introduced himself several years ago. His hair was long and messy, and his face was full of black smudge marks.

“Well, you’re not too ugly,” I said.

“Oh yea, I am,” James said. “But I’m a good roofer. And I’ve done a lot of roofing around here. Just how’d you get my name anyway, out of the phone book?”

“No,” I said. “I got your name from a friend of mine.”

“Cause if you were just looking for a low price, I ain’t gonna be the low price.”

Sensing the pride he had in his own work, I responded. “Oh, no I’m not looking for the lowest price. I’m looking for the best job.”

         “Well, that’s what you’ll get with me. But remember now, I ain’t gonna be the lowest price. I’ll do you a good job. You see, most roofers take a bunch of short cuts. Not me. I don’t like short cuts.”

James walked around my house looking at my roof. And as he was working up an estimate on the job, he commented, “You got a lot of flashing on your house, Mr. Hill.”

         “Is that a problem?” I asked.

         “Oh, no, I love flashing; that’s my specialty. I’m real good with copper flashing. Ask the people at Sacred Heart Church. They’ll tell you what kind of job I do.”

From my brief conversation with James I knew that I had the right man for my roofing job. I’d actually found a man who really enjoyed roofing. “What a rare find,” I thought. Here was someone who was proud of his work and wanting to first make sure that his prospective customer was going to appreciate it as well.

James told me that he would roof my house for a flat price with any style shingle that I picked out and purchased. “If I was you, Mr. Hill, I’d buy a real nice shingle; that’ll make you house look really good.”

And so I just that. I bought one of the best shingles on the market, which happened to also be one the heaviest shingles. I watched as James and his helper lugged those heavy shingles up the ladder and onto my roof. It was a lot of work. But James loved it. And occasionally, he would yell down to me on the ground.

         “How’s it look, Mr. Hill? Does it look good so far?”

         “Oh yea, it looks great James, you’re doing a great job.”

I think my compliments helped to lighten his load and make carrying those heavy shingles up the ladder worth while.

Days 19-21 Guide

Most people spend a lot of time working. I think it’s important to hold a high opinion of your work and respect the level of care that must be taken in order to protect its quality. Take time to survey your work and make sure that you’re giving it a significant amount of attention.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Days 22-26
Hope – Experience – Faith

“Life is for the living,” that’s what old Joe Kennedy told his son, John, as he was nearing the end of his life. And it’s true, isn’t it? The experience we call life is acquired by an active participation.

Live! It’s good advice. But it’s incomplete and begs the further question: but how should we live? The spirit of Joyous Gard answers by telling us to live joyfully, trusting in the higher things and expecting the fulfillment of our deepest desires.

Experience should be a treasure for those who believe in the Gard — a tapestry woven with the answers to prayer, the witness of magic and unreal moments, feelings of love and sympathy, and the memories of joyful reunions that have healed tearful separations. I believe that our experience of life should be gilded with the hope of goodness and the faith of divine guidance. We should trust that our experiences form a certain beautiful order, and we should seek always to recognize the incredible significance of almost everything.

Days 22-26 Guide

Today, be faithful and hopeful, viewing your experience as the fulfillment of a higher purpose.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 27 Progress

When my sister and I were little, we had a baby sitter named Mrs. Sweat. As I recall, she was never without her knitting bag, and while she knitted, her husband Paul, who would sometimes accompany her, was happy just to watch wrestling on television. Occasionally, he would entertain us by taking his teeth out and giving us a big “gummy” smile. But most of the time you would find him asleep in front of the television, Mrs. Sweat at his side, busily knitting.

She was always working with her hands. And whether it was crocheting or knitting that she was doing, I enjoyed watching her hands move to create these wonderful patterned squares that would eventually make an afghan or some sort of bed cover. I don’t know how many knitted squares it took for her to make a full afghan, but she must have knitted thousands of those things. I admired her persistence and desire to complete a project.

I’m afraid that I sometimes feel like old Paul, just wanting to sit in front of the “tube” and fall asleep. And even though I know the spirit of Joyous Gard is one of elevated energy, it sometimes takes quite an effort for me to get motivated and moving forward.

Day 27 Guide

Today, think about the hands that build and make. Think about those who work to complete a project, and consider the beauty of such progress. Consider the endurance of those who will rebuild those hard hit areas of the Gulf Coast, and try to “feed” off of that energy and desire. America is a nation of progressive, forward looking people. Yet sometimes I think we all need a kick in the pants.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 28 The Sense of Beauty

We just adopted a kitten, and though I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really a cat person, I have enjoyed seeing my eight-year old daughter love this beautiful little Calico. I imagine that I’ll soon find out if I’m still allergic to cats. But even so, I’m sure it’ll be worth a little sneezing to watch my daughter take care of Cali.

It normally takes either a lot of effort or a curve ball to move me from a dead standstill. Every now and then, I need a jump-start — a surprise, a kitten. Do you ever feel like you’re stuck and need a change? A deep sense of beauty will help to draw you quickly from the numbing effects of stagnation. The mind constantly on guard for beauty finds opportunity for recovery and healing in most all life-events, both the good ones and the bad ones. I find that beauty is often times intermingled with a problem, a nuisance or general difficulty.

Have you ever lost your car keys? Now, that’s a pain in the neck, isn’t it? It’s enough to make you feel like the gods are against you. But then haven’t you also ever found something else that you’d been looking for as you’re searching for your keys? It’s almost as if you had to lose one thing to find another. Be careful not to let the little annoyances take you down. Sometimes you need a curve ball to shock your system back into shape.

Day 28 Guide

On Gard!

Keep your mind in touch with the deeper currents of beauty and desire. Beneath the surface-noise there is a purposeful flow that let’s you know you’re still in the game. Don’t lose hope amidst the problems, but rather see them as opportunities to find the beauty.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Day 29 The Principle of Beauty

Thus the soul that desires to see beauty must begin by believing it to be there, must expect to see it, must watch for it, must not be discouraged by those who do not see it, and least of all give heed to those who would forbid one to discern it except in definite and approved forms.

Joyous Gard, The Principle of Beauty

James Miller, Come on Down! You are the next contestant on The Price is Right!

Those words sent my friend, James “Bobby” Miller, running down the studio aisle last week to stand on contestant’s row and have the chance to go on stage with The Price is Right game-show host, Bob Barker. Most people would say that he was lucky, but I believe Bobby expected to hear his name called. He’s the kind of guy who believes that he can win anything. And I’m beginning to think that he’s right.

The opportunity to go on stage is won among the contestants by entering the closest bid for an item shown on stage. It was for a set of Tama Drums that Bobby entered a bid of $1000 and then waited for the result to be read by Bob Barker. Just before the results were presented, however, a bell rang, indicating that among the bidders, there was one who had entered the exact price. The contestants were informed that not only would this person win the chance to go on stage, but that he would also win $500 in cash. Well, that winner was none other than my friend, Bobby.

With his hands flying in the air, Bobby ran up on stage to accept his $500 and then find himself with the opportunity to win an even bigger prize, a new car! The game he played, “Switcharoo,” looked rather simple. But Bobby was obviously anxious as he shuffled five numbers on a game-board, hoping to match the correct answer within a set time limit. Looking for help from his friends in the audience, Bobby made a few additional changes until finally, he said that he was satisfied with his answer. And then, following a few tense seconds, Bob Barker called to “show the results.” Well, you could not have seen a happier person than my friend, Bobby Miller, the moment he discovered that he’d just won a brand new car.

Day 29 Guide

Even though it sounds sort of backwards, the most disappointed people are usually the ones who expect little. The most joyful, on the other hand, are those who have a strong expectation of things desired. It is the energy called hope.

Believe, my friend.

© 2005, Levi Hill

Joyous Gard: Daily Guide               
September 2005 ~ Days Sept 30 – Oct 2 Life

Life doesn’t often go smoothly for long periods of time, does it? I mean, when things are going really well, don’t you ever have the thought in the back of your mind that something bad is about to happen? It’s the proverbial calm before the storm, right? Let’s face it: problems are an inevitable part of life. And the only thing that remains is whether we know how to live well even amidst the rainy days of life.

The spirit of Joyous Gard is one of patience and of an enduring beauty that stands to remind us of better days. Having taken on the habits of building such a place in your mind, you should sense that the rough spots in life aren’t quite as rough, and that the bright spots are yet brighter.

Days Sept 30-Oct 2 Guide

Consider the Joyous Gard Cycle of Days to be your guide for building the habits of seeking beauty. Those on Gard are constantly looking for the simple and beautiful pleasures. We ought all to hear the birds sing and feel a sense of awe under a full moon.

© 2005, Levi Hill

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