1. Carrying the raft

A traveller comes across a swollen river that he needs to cross but the current is too strong for swimming. He builds a raft that carries him safely over. On arrival at the far bank he picks up the raft and carries it on his back for the rest of his life in case he has to cross another swollen river.

Let's look to see what we are still doing that served us once but is no longer appropriate and yet we hang on to "just in case". The way we had of dealing with a childhood fear which we still practice although the fear, and our childhood, are gone. The attitudes we had when we were poor which we no longer need now we are more financially comfortable, or perhaps the reverse now we have met harder times.

2. The Sunday Tube Train

I was taking the tube one Sunday morning and reading my newspaper. At the first stop three young children and their father joined our carriage but the children were so badly behaved I found it impossible to read or enjoy the journey. A little cross I asked their father if he could control his children better. He replied "Oh, I am sorry you were disturbed, you see we have come from the hospital where their mother, my wife has just died" (Stephen Covey)

Covey writes about his immediate mood change, from irritation to "How can I help?"

We never know the stories of others, why they act the way they do but we could try assuming people have a reason which, if we knew it, would change our reactions to them from negative to positive.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" (Plato)

3. Sharpening the Saw

A workman is trying hard to cut a large log in two with a saw that a passer by notices is obviously blunt. "Why not stop for a while and sharpen your saw?" she suggests. "I don't have time, I have to get this finished as soon as possible." is the reply.

How many of our tasks in life would be completed more quickly and perhaps with less effort if we started in a good state, a positive frame of mind? But this can take time to achieve and sometimes we just have to plough ahead and get things done because of time pressures. 
However more often than we think we can take the time to care for ourselves first, to spend more time in planning a task so we need to spend less on its execution. 

4. Advanced civilisations

There is a theory that there are other civilisations out there far more advanced that ours. They started tens of thousands of years before ours did and so have had more time to develop.
The truth is they only started fifteen minutes before and the reason they are so much more advanced is because they never had to rush to appointments. (Woody Allen)

I can remember being told to take time to read through exam papers before starting to write and finding this very difficult to do, the urge to make "progress" was so great. And yet it is excellent advice in a world where we live as if fifteen minutes would make all the difference. So why not take that time now to sit and think about the rest of your day and the difference it could make if you decide not to rush. Some things won't get done but that's OK, the world and those close to you will survive.

5. The Farmer and the Horse

A farmer has a horse which is admired by all. One day it escapes and her friends express their sorrow.  "Things happen." is the reply and within a few days the horse returns leading more horses, the friends express their pleasure "Things happen." says the farmer and a few days later her son breaks his leg trying to tame one of the new horses. Again "Things happen." and a few days after that when the recruiting army comes to the village her son is spared enlistment because of the injury...and so it goes on.

We may never know the true meaning of an event, good or bad, until long after it has happened. Looking back some of our greatest problems have given us our best learning and what we thought was good news may have turned out to have been a mixed blessing. "And this too shall pass"

6. The fitted suit

A man goes to George, a famous tailor, to have a suit made. After the cloth selection and measuring he returns for the fitting and puts the suit on. One arm is shorter than the other so the tailor suggests he shortens his arm by raising his shoulder. This turns up the collar so the tailor suggests he inclines his head to one side but this creates a problem with the other shoulder so his body has to be adjusted to compensate for this and so it goes on. When the man leaves the shop he is stopped by a passer-by who says "I know only George could have made a suit that would fit a cripple like you."

How much of our lives do we live in a way that contorts who we truly are in order to fit the suit others have made for us and which the rest of the world thinks fits us perfectly?

7. Living in the present

A man is captured by enemies and thrown into prison. That night he is unable to sleep because he fears that the next day he will be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his teacher come to him, "Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now." Heeding these words he becomes peaceful and falls asleep.

My first reaction, nice idea, completely impractical. But then I start to think about the small steps I can make to living in the here and now rather than agonising over the past or worrying about the future. I don't think I will ever get to the position of the person in the story but I can do better than I am doing.

8. Making a difference

From a distance a woman can be seen walking along a beach and regularly bending down to pick something up and throw it into the sea. As she gets nearer a passer-by sees she is throwing stranded starfish back into the water. "That's pointless" he says, "there are so many starfish stranded on this beach you can't possibly make a difference." The woman bends down and throws another one into the sea, "Made a difference to that one." she says.

Sometimes the problems of the world together with our own more immediate issues can seem so overwhelming we just don't think we can make a difference to anything. But a kind word to a friend or stranger, a smile at the supermarket checkout does make a difference. Can you remember when someone paid you a casual, sincere but unexpected compliment? Well others remember what you say just as you remember what they say and you do make a difference. 

9. The travelling monks

Two travelling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up, carried her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed. As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. "Brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!"
"Brother," the second monk replied, "I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her."

You probably know this story, its a very old one and much told. The trouble with familiar things is that we react to the familiarity and tend to miss the learning. If we could stop holding on to negative thoughts and feelings we could transform our lives and perhaps the world.

10. The big rocks

At a lecture on time management the lecturer takes a large bucket and fills it to the brim with rocks and asks "Is there room for any more?"

Thinking she means more rocks the students say "No, it is full." The lecturer then takes some gravel to fill in the gaps and the same question is asked with the same answer. The process is repeated as she adds both sand and lastly, water.

She asks, "What is the lesson here?" Various answers are given along the lines "You always have more time than you think"
"The lesson", says the lecturer, "is that it only works if you put the big rocks in first." (Stephen Covey)

Its not for anyone else to tell you what your "big rocks" are or should be, you need to decide that. But it is fair to ask if they get the priority they deserve. Amazingly the routine of life always seems to get done or if it does not it never seems to matter as much as we thought it would. A week and in some cases a lifetime can easily pass without time being given to things that are important. 

11. God and the devil

God and the devil are walking down a street when God suddenly bends down to pick something up.

"What's that?" asks the devil. "It's The Truth" replies God.

"Let me have it," says the devil "I'll organise it for you"

Keep your guard when dealing with organisations, however well intended. They can develop a life and an energy of their own, sometimes regardless of the attitudes of their members.

12. Don't do it then

A woman goes to see the Doctor, lifts up her right arm and says, "Every time I do that it hurts". The Doctor replies "So don't do it then" (Tommy Cooper)

Old joke, bad medical advice, but consider the following:-

Every time I drink too much I feel terrible the next morning:-
So don't do it then.

Whenever I think about my divorce I get very upset and cry:-
So don't do it then.

Each time we talk about your mother it ends up in a row:-
So don't do it then.

Fill in our own examples. Not all of life's problems can be solved this way but some can, it can be that simple, sometimes.

13. The meaning of life

The gods met to decide where to hide the meaning of life so humankind would have to experience struggle to find it. They considered, and rejected, a number of locations before one of them suggested "Let's hide it inside each human being, they will never think to look there"

And they were right, most people look outside themselves, to career, relationships, posessions, success etc. All of these can be important but when it comes to finding true meaning the answers usually lie within us. Once we connect with this it is natural to seek an external expression of who we are but it is important to get the direction right, inside to outside, not outside to inside.

14. The Pursuit of Happiness

When the English comedienne, Joyce Grenfell first went to the USA she was asked by reporters what she thought about the ideals of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. She replied, "I'm not so interested in the pursuit of happiness as in the discovery of joy"

What a great distinction. Happiness often seems to be something we have to work hard to achieve. The discovery of joy suggests something that is already there, we only have to notice it.

15. Tree of sorrows

This is a story of a village where once a year all the inhabitants write down their sorrows, their problems and difficulties from the last twelve months. They then pin their list on a special tree, the tree of sorrows, for a day where all the villagers can read them.

At the end of the day each person has a choice to take home their experience of the past year or choose the experience of another villager. As the story goes they all choose to take back their own experience as that seems easier to bear than any of the others they have read.

We have little idea of the problems of most other people, particularly those who seem to be sailing through life. Let's suspend our judgements, to know all is to forgive all. 
Our life is here to teach us and when we have learnt what we need we can move on. Others have their own path and their own struggles and may need a helping hand from us when we feel least able to reach out.

16. The lost keys

It's dusk and a man is on his knees searching under a streetlight for the keys he has dropped. He is joined by his neighbour who helps him search and asks "Where exactly did you drop them?" "Oh, I dropped them in my back garden," replies the man, "but I am looking for them here because the light is so much better."

This seems just a very silly story until I remember all the times I have tidied up my desk rather than face a difficult issue. Some people spend money or have a drink to make themselves feel better, I guess it's all about as sensible as looking for your keys where the light is best rather than where you dropped them.

17. Falling in a hole

A woman is out for a walk when she falls into a deep hole from which there appears to be no way out. She cries out for help and a passing academic leans over and offers her advice on how to avoid such holes in future.

Later a religious leader hears her cries and suggests she thinks about the true meaning of her predicament and says that there is a being somewhere who cares about her. Subsequently a therapist responds with an offer to help her explore how she allowed herself to get into this situation.

Various other professionals offer advice as the woman sinks into deeper despair. Lastly a friend comes by, realises what has happened and jumps into the hole with her. The woman is pleased to have the company but also wonders why her friend has put herself in the same situation. The friend replies "I have been in this hole before, I know the way out"

I am not suggesting the professionals cannot also be friends but often they are not. True empathy can involve more than listening or advice. Friendship requires someone who is willing to start from where you are rather than from where they are and who is willing, and able, to travel the road with you.

18. Heaven and Hell

A tour has been arranged of Hell and Heaven.

In Hell people are seated at a long table loaded with food but the spoons for eating are longer than their arms. They are starving because they cannot get food into their mouths.

In Heaven people are seated at a long table loaded with food but the spoons for eating are longer than their arms. They are well fed because they are feeding each other.

This can be seen as an irritating and simplistic view of life, a sweet story, or it can make a difference to how you respond to the next person you have contact with after reading it.

19. Making sandwiches

Every day when he opens his lunch a man says "Not peanut butter and jam sandwiches again, I hate them," At the end of a week of complaining a colleague asks, "Why don't you ask your wife to make you different sandwiches next week"? "Oh I'm not married" the man replies, "I make my own sandwiches".

It's more of a joke than a story but so is complaining about the circumstances in our lives which we have created. Yet most of the circumstances we find ourselves in are either of our own creating or because we are not prepared to pay the price required to release ourselves from them.

20. The Cellar door

A child is told to keep clear of the cellar door and above all never to open it because what is behind is frightening and dangerous. When she is a bit older and her parents are elsewhere she decides to open the door and look for herself. She is scared but determined to be brave and as the door opens she fields, other children playing and the sun shining. (Based on an Emo Phillips joke)

We all spend some time trapped in cellars which others have made for us or sometimes in dark places of our own making. Try opening the door, peep in, look inside. Perhaps your courage will be rewarded and what is on the other side will turn out to be less a fright and more a delight.

21. The ritual cat

When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice.

Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

"Old habits die hard," my parents used to say. They certainly do if we don't make ourselves aware of them. Take a pen and write down three things you do now that served you once but are no longer applicable. (see also Carrying the Raft)

22. Spinning a coin

Sigmund Freud was asked for advice on how to make difficult decisions. "Spin a coin" he said. When challenged about the idea of leaving important choices to chance he explained, "When the coin comes down you will have some clue as to how you really feel about the decision"

Sometimes we need to pretend we have made a decision in order to discover our deeper feelings. We can do that for a few days and then spend a few days assuming we have made the opposite decision. We then need to notice what feelings come up for us.

23 The mustard seed

A woman comes to the Buddha pleading with him to revive her dead child. "If you bring me a mustard seed from any household which has not known death your child will live again" he promises. She searches for days but to no avail and on her return says "I understand now. Death visits every household and eventually each of us."

It's a story of both sadness and reality and as we read it we should realise that if we don't have a good reason for grieving we should be rejoicing.

24 If I had a gun to my head

A well known newspaper owner faced the possibility of bankruptcy following the failure of a loan application. "If someone put a gun to my head I would find a way out of this" he said, and he did.

It's an aggressive metaphor but it does remind us that given sufficient reason we can overcome almost anything.

25 The fisherman and the businessman

A man is sitting fishing for his supper when he is approached by a visiting businessman. "If you had a boat and employed people you could catch more fish and sell them at a profit, you'd soon be rich" he said.

"And what would I do then?" asked the fisherman.

"Anything you want" said the businessman.

"I'm doing that now" he replied.

It's a very well known story and a good one. Let's make sure we recognise what we have now and enjoy it to the full. There is no greater waste than to work hard to get what is already in your possession.

26 Cheating at drawing

He was not good at drawing at school and never had his work displayed in the classroom. One day, by mistake, he completed a drawing having taken two sheets of paper instead of the usual single sheet. He noticed an outline of the drawing on the second sheet.

This gave him an idea and he took a sheet of paper home and traced over a drawing he liked so an outline was left on the sheet underneath which he then took to school. In the lesson he drew over the outline and submitted the work as his own.

After a couple of tries he had his work selected for display on the classroom wall. And so it continued for a whole term but then he started to feel guilty and decided he would stop cheating. Next term he drew without following an outline and found to his surprise that, with all the practice, his drawing was much better than it had been and after a few weeks he had a piece of work selected for display. (David Gordon)

Sometimes we have to practice in a seemingly false situation in order to learn how to deal with something, "Fake it 'till you make it". Pretend anger in order to learn how to stop being angry, show love even when we don't feel loving. The skill will develop and what we had to pretend in order to practice will become truly our own.

27 Only one way to be right

A father talks to his daughter who is a bit upset because her desk is untidy.

"What makes it untidy?" he asks.

"Well when things are moved about." she replies.

"So if I move this pen a bit does that make it untidy?"

"Yes it does" she says "the pen has to be just there."

"Well the problem is" says her father "there are a lot of ways you can see your desk as untidy but only one way you can see it as tidy!"
(Gregory Bateson)

Too many rules can spoil your life. If you can have a number of ways you can experience success you are far more likely to have that experience than if you only have one. Don't make your life harder than it needs to be.

28. Stopping the ripples

"Throw a pebble into the pond" instructed the teacher. "Now try and stop the ripples". And of course every move the student made to stop the water moving caused new ripples and so on and so on. "The only way to control the ripples" said the teacher, "Is not to throw the stone in the first place".

Once we take an action we lose control over the effect it has. So when it comes to acting negatively, towards ourselves or others, it's best if we just don't start.

29. The special occasion

A brother and sister are clearing up the house of their recently departed mother. They come across the expensive dress she bought years ago for a special occasion and realise it is still in the store wrapping, there was never an occasion special enough.

It can all sound very old fashioned until we remember the way we expect to feel 'when the right person comes along,' the experiences we intend to have 'when the time is right.' There is nothing wrong with looking forward to things but it's a big waste to die with the music still in you.

30. The stuck bus

A bus is stuck under a low bridge after the driver makes a mistake and takes the wrong turning. No one is hurt but all the efforts of the fire fighters to pull the bus out are to no avail, it is firmly stuck. To try more could damage the bridge. A young girl rides up on her bike to watch and says quietly to the Fire Chief "Why don't you just let the tyres down?"

There are two ways to use this story. Sometimes solutions to problems are far more simple that we think if we keep our minds open to all possibilities. Sometimes what we need to do is to let the air out of a situation, sometimes just by breathing out.

31. Carnegie Hall

"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" asks the tourist of the New York cab driver.
"Practice, baby, practice" he replies. (Very old joke)

Yes it is a very old joke but still relevant. We know we have to practice to learn to speak a foreign language or to learn to dance well, but what about learning to be confident, to be more loving? The answer can be the same, "practice, baby, practice."

32. Remember the colour

"Look around the room" said the therapist, "and try to remember everything coloured green." She even helped by pointing out things that might have been missed, an ornament, a part of a picture. "Now shut your eyes" she said, "list out loud everything in this room coloured blue"

We remember what we focus on. Describe your day so far in terms of what has gone right for you. Start with I am still alive, some people who woke up this morning at the same time as you won't be able to say that. Now describe your day in terms of what has gone wrong and it will feel very different. We need to be aware of the difficult things in life but they don't need to be what we focus on all the time. We have a choice.

33. The Old Man

An old man lived a quiet simple life until one day his village was taken over by Nazi occupation forces. A storm trooper dragged him into the street and said, "From now on, you will let me live in your house, and every day you will serve my meals, make my bed, and shine my boots. Otherwise I will kill you. Will you do as you're told?" The old man did not answer.

For two years he served meals, shined shoes, made beds and obeyed every order with one exception - he would not say a word.

Then one day the allied armies liberated the village. As they dragged the soldier from the cottage, the old man took a deep breath and finally answered the question: "No!" (Sheldon Kopp)

There's a part of each of us that remains free despite our external circumstances. It's the part that allows us to choose how we react and when we react. It's what makes us human and it's not available for others to control.

34. The rope of time

A 12 year old wishes to become a teenager because "they have more fun" and in response to his wish a Wizard gives him a rope which, when he pulls it, makes him older. One pull and he's a teenager but sadly finds he also has spots.

Wanting to avoid the comments of his peers he pulls again but a bit too hard and finds he is now in his early 20's, married and with a child. They are struggling financially but he knows better times are ahead and pulls again.

Late 20's he has promotion but is not happy with his new job so another pull takes him to being a Manager, a good career time and the money side is easier. The problems of 2 teenage children, their friends and their loud late night music get to him and he looks forward to when he and his wife can enjoy their home together.

Another pull but he is now struggling to keep his job and looks forward to his retirement. He pulls again and finds he has retired but is now facing major heart surgery. Anxious to find out what happens he pulls one more time and finds himself in the dark and surrounded by a wooden box.

Let's just enjoy each stage of our life as it comes, it's over quickly enough.

35. My English teacher

When I was 12 there was in my class a boy who was very badly behaved. One day, after his lesson had been disrupted several times our much respected English teacher lost his temper and to the shock of the rest of the class hit this boy several times before sending him to the Headmaster for the cane (this was many years ago). We talked of little else that day.

The next day our English teacher came into the class and publicly apologised both to the boy and to the rest of my class for his loss of temper and for hitting out. We talked of little else that week.

This is one of the best lessons in my life. This teacher taught me many things but, unknown to him, this was his best lesson as far as I was concerned.

1. When you are wrong you need to acknowledge it and apologise.
2. You can grow in the eyes of others by how you handle your failures.
3. You never know what it is that you do which makes the difference.

36. A month to live

The woman drove home from the hospital in a daze. "You probably have only one month to live." the new Doctor had told her after reviewing her test results. 

As her mind cleared on the long journey she started to plan the month ahead. She thought of  the letters and e-mails she needed to write, the calls she wanted to make, apologies for past mistakes, statements of love to those close to her. She realised there were experiences she had always postponed having which she could still cram into this month. Above all she wanted to spend her last weeks feeling fully alive.

She arrived home, keen to start doing the things she had thought about. The phone was ringing as she opened the door and she took the call. It was from the hospital, there had been a terrible mix up. Her tests were clear, there was no problem.

Would she still take the action she had planned on her journey home?

37. The old coin

An unemployed father of four walks towards his nearest town in search of paid work, as he has done every day for the past few months. Bills are piling up and his wife is getting depressed. His toes kicked something and bending down he picked up an old coin.

Arriving at the town he took it to a coin collector who paid him £30 for his find. Passing a hardware store he saw some wood and decided he would build his wife the shelves she had been asking for. On the journey home he was stopped by a furniture maker who offered him £100 for the wood and also a new cupboard for his kitchen. Carrying the cupboard home he passed a house which was being upgraded and the owner offered him £150 for the cupboard which he accepted.

Pleased with his fortune he stood at the gate of his house counting the cash when a man with a knife accosted him, took the cash and ran off. Seeing the attack from the kitchen window his wife rushed out, "Are you all right?" she cried. "What did he take?".

The man shrugged his shoulders and said "Oh it was just some battered old coin I stumbled across this morning" 

Sometimes it pays to create the best possible explanation for things over which we have no control.

38. And is there honey?

A wife gets woken by her husband bearing coffee and croissants.
She says to him, "There's nothing better than honey on my croissants in the morning. There are so many different varieties of honey, each, like wine, has it's own character. Honey is definitely my favorite breakfast spread.

Then she says, "But honey is so unhealthy, all those little insects manufacturing it in unhygienic conditions, and it can be bad for your blood sugar, on second thoughts I loathe honey"

Her bemused husband replies, "You can't have it both ways, you need to make up your mind."
"I quite agree," she replies "And I will make up my mind which opinion I want to hold once I know if we have any honey in the kitchen"

It's easier to ride a horse in the direction in which it's going.

39. The perfect childhood

They were determined that their only child should have a perfect upbringing. He grew up protected from all harm, when he looked like falling they were there to catch him, when he cried the tissue they produced caught the tears almost before they started. They tried to model a perfect relationship for him, all disagreements were kept private, they never crticised each other in front of him and of course took care never to criticise him. Sadly, when he started school and someone said something unkind to him he had no idea how to cope.

Life can be good but not perfect otherwise we don't grow. It's how we cope when things go wrong that is the mark of us as human beings.

40. The setting sun

Two friends on a safari holiday are watching the African sunset. One is lost in the experience, the sounds of the birds, the changing colours, the gentle breeze. The other is reviewing the day, the transport that was late, the less than acceptable lunch, the plans for tomorrow. When the sun completely disappeared below the horizon who do you think made the best use of the time?

When the sun sets on your life, and it will, how many experiences will you have fully appreciated and how much time will you have spent reviewing the past and planning the future?

41. Meeting your objectives

He had finally achieved all his goals, not surprising, he had devoted almost all his time to them. He had the job and the income he wanted, the level of fitness he desired and an apartment in the best part of town. It had all been worhtwhile, the personal sacrifices, the postponement of pleasure. At last he could look forward to enjoying life. He was so busy looking forward he did not see the truck that hit him from behind.

It's not forever. By all means have plans and objectives but enjoy the present moment. You may never have another.

42. The man in Camden market

I learnt a lot from this encounter. I was attending a day's course but had arrived early so went for a walk in the local market. Checking out the stalls I saw ahead of me the back of a man who looked to me like the boxer Mike Tyson. He had a huge neck, criss cross markings on the back of his head and the build of a weight lifter. Even from behind him there was a feeling of physical force and I felt intimidated. I gave him a wide berth.

When I got to the room where the training was being held he was, of course, the man sitting next to me and during the day I had the pleasure of spending time with one of the most gentle kind men I have ever met. When we parted he gave me his business card which read Human Being in the space people usually put their job title.

I like to think I am not a particularly judgemental person but this encounter showed me how far I still have to go. I carry the memory with me to recall when I get an instant feeling about someone, it reminds me not to assume how people are from how I think they look.

43. Being the eagle

The farmer was excited when an eagle nested his property and then devastated when he found the eagle had been shot. He climbed the tree to look at the nest and saw it contained a single egg. He carried it carefully down the tree, took it back to his barn, and slipped it under a brooding hen.

The eaglet eventually hatched along with the other eggs that were lain under the hen. It was raised with the chickens and thought itself to be nothing but an unusual chicken. It spent its time scratching the ground for seeds, searching for worms, and clucking senselessly.

One day a dark, ominous shadow fell across the barnyard. In terror the eagle fled for shelter with its companions. Looking up, the eagle saw the outstretched wings of a huge bird effortlessly carrying itself in graceful circles as it glided on currents of warm air. Entranced by the majesty of such a huge and powerful bird, it turned to the chicken beside it and asked, "What's that?" "That," said his companion, "is the king of birds. Its realm is the sky. It controls the air. It is called an eagle. We are chickens. We belong on the ground."

The eagle looked up at the bird and saw their similarities with himself. It looked at the chickens and, for the first time, saw how different he was from them. The eagle now had a choice. It could live and die as a chicken in the backyard coop or it could spread its wings and soar into the air with the majesty, skill, and power of the bird above.

And so it is with each of us, we have a destiny, a life far 

beyond our current way of living and the choice is ours.

44. Lighting the candle

There were about nine hundred of us in the room. It was air-conditioned but without any windows so when the lights were switched off the blackness was total. On the stage the course leader struck a match and lit a small candle, it was surprising how much light it gave. He used his candle to light those held by a couple of people in the front row and they, in turn, lit the candles of those behind them. Without any hurry and rush within a few minutes every candle in the room was lit as we all contributed to the powerful light that filled the whole area.

What struck me most was that nothing needed to be said to explain the metaphor.

45. The job I might have enjoyed

The therapist drove to his office on a Monday morning feeling the burden of his work weighing heavily on him. The week before had been particularly tiring and he knew his diary was full for today and for the early part of the week ahead. With a heavy heart he stopped to buy petrol and as he went to pay the attendant gave him a cheery smile and wished him a good day. He drove on reflecting that in that one simple gesture the man at the garage might have made as much difference as he did to his clients in an hour of therapy. Suddenly a simple job involving routine but friendly contact with people seemed very attractive.

He arrived at his office thinking about the lack of purpose in his life to find his first appointment was a new client for a first session.

To his standard first question of "How can I help?" came the reply, "Well, I think I'm wasting my life, I serve people in a garage and I can't stand the monotony and lack of human contact"

The lives of others are rarely as they seem to us on the outside. "Most people lead lives of quiet desperation," said Thoreau. Lets keep that in mind when making judgements and feeling dissatisfied with our own lot.

46. The near collision

He steered his motorboat upstream with the sun glinting on the water ahead of him. As his boat rounded a bend in the river he saw another craft moving steadily towards him. Unable to see the pilot because of the sun shining on the window he sounded his horn briefly to give notice of his presence. There was no change of direction and he cursed the amateurs who rented boats on this river stretch. A long blast on his horn and a wave of his hand gave vent to his annoyance but instead of swerving away the bow of the other boat turned towards him and seemed intent of causing a collision. Swearing loudly at the pilot he wrenched his wheel to avoid the other craft and turned to give what he felt was an appropriate sign in the circumstances to the person who had nearly sunk both of them. The other craft passed close and he could see there was on one at the helm. He'd been cursing a vessel that had slipped its moorings.

Think about this next time you get mad at the bad weather, the late train, the lost keys, the crashed computer etc. It's very rare that things are personal; it's very often that it feels that way.

47. The search for the secret of life

He awoke one morning convinced this was the day he would discover the secret that would change his life. He had been feeling it was close for many months and now was the time to take action. With few possessions he set off on his quest pausing to look back at his home and wondering how long it would be before he saw his own front door again. He kept to a straight path despite many obstacles but many months went by and he faced and dealt with many dangers all the time convinced of his quest. After two years he arrived, tired and dusty at a plot of land that fitted the description in his mind. With the strength his travels had given him he began to dig and there, a few feet below the ground was the treasure he had sought for so long. He lifted it up and straightened before prising it open. It was then he realised he was in his own back garden, his trip, right round the world, had brought him back almost to the point from which he had started.

This is a very old story and you probably guessed the ending before you got to it. I think there are two questions we can ask ourselves:-

1. If the back garden represents our inner life is it true we already have the answers within us?

2. Could our hero have just gone out of his back door and found the secret or was the journey away, and back, essential to the process?

I would answer "yes" to the first question and I think the journey is essential.

48. An old man reviews his life

The old man sat reviewing his life, he had lived too long, you weren't supposed to go to your children's funerals and he had been to all three of his. Ill health had exhausted his savings, he was dependent on others for almost everything. In his despondency he felt he had wasted his time here on earth. There was no one still alive who had benefited from his being alive.

A few thousand miles away a middle aged woman was telling her grandchild about a magical experience she'd had when she was young. She had been lost and was deeply upset. A middle aged man had sat down with her, comforted her and told her he would help her find her parents and that the feelings of sadness would pass. He said to her "You know, in the end everything passes, nothing goes on for ever" Those words and the kindness with which they had been spoken had changed her life. They went on to change the life of her granddaughter as well.

You just never know the effect you have on others, so live as though it's an important one.

49. The two wolves

After the 9/11 attack a man was heard to say to his son "I feel like I have two wolves fighting inside me, one is angry and full of vengance while the other is still determined to be gentle and loving." "Which one will win?" asked the son, "Whichever one I choose to feed" replied his father.

Feelings, good or bad, don't survive without care and attention and it's our choice as to which ones we feed when we feel a conflict within us. In the end the negative feelings tend to feed on us but the positive feelings tend to feed us.

50 Leaving the village

This is a story that occurs in many cultures but I think it's time to change the sex of the main character.

A young woman decides to explore beyond the village in which she has spent all her childhood. Many wise people counsel against this venture but some encourage her and so she sets off along the mountain road pausing, at the top of the path for one last look back at her home and the safe place full of those she loves. She has many adventures along her journey and after some years decides it is time to return to the village and share her new learning. She is welcomed back but some people view her and her ideas with suspicion. As time goes by she has to resist reverting to the life she had there and with great determination holds firm to the understanding she gained while she was away. Her life and the life of the whole village is enhanced by the new learning she has brought with her.

There are many ways of viewing this story and you should let it mean whatever feels right for you. I will just ask one question:
"If the whole world followed you, would you be pleased with where you took it?" (Neale Donald Walsch)

51. Making a difference

In the late 1960's my wife was walking along Ladbroke Grove in Notting Hill, London dressed in an outfit that could best be described as very colourful, although not untypical for the time. An old lady stopped her and said "My dear, I just wanted to tell you how lovely you look, you are brightening up the street".She still remembers that compliment almost 40 years on. It shows the power our words have. Think back to an early compliment you were paid and remember how you felt. Then recall an early unfair criticism and the effect that had.

You could say something to someone today that will be a positive memory for them in 40 years time.

Why not take a slight risk and do it?

52. The frog in water

It is said that if you put a frog in cold water and gradually heat the water the frog will stay in the container and boiled to death. If you put a frog into hot water straight away it will jump straight out. The reason given is that the frog cannot detect the slow change in the temperature. (I've never tested this.)

If you take a few minutes right now to look at some aspects of your life, relationship, health, finances are there situations that have taken you over so slowly that you haven't noticed the process. If you had no personal history and had the shock of suddenly arriving in the life you now lead what are the situations you are in that you would welcome and what are the ones you would jump away from.

53. I'm not a carer

The elderly Jewish taxi driver is seeing a therapist to help ease the pressure of looking after his ill wife. His story unfolds and he talks about his alcoholic mother and how he needed to protect his younger brother from her rages. When he got married he and his wife had a severely disabled child who he has looked after. Now his wife has Alzheimer's.
The therapist says, "When you think about it you've been a carer all you life". The taxi driver replies "Carer is a modern word, what I've been is a son, a brother, a father and a husband".
I find this a very moving statement, it expresses a dignity and set of values that in our "blame and claim" society we might be in danger of losing. Some pain can be eased, some has to be born as best we can.

54. Not in a shadow

In a television interview the son of the author Maya Angelou was asked "What was it like growing up in your mother's shadow?" He replied, "That's funny, I always thought I was growing up in her light".

It's said the Chinese use the same symbol for problem as they do for opportunity and it's certainly true that the context we create for the "facts" of our life largely dictate our experience. Take one area of your life that you have difficulty with and ask yourself this, "If I understood this in a positive light how would it change my daily experience?" Note what answers come up for you and see if you think it's worth making the change.

55. The "scar face" experiment

Participants in this experiment are fitted with a fake facial scar and told they are to be interviewed to see how their deformity influences the way they are treated. Just before the interview last minute adjustments are made to the scar but in fact, and unbeknown to the participant the scar is removed entirely.

Right after the interview, in almost every case, the participants were full of all kinds of examples of how the interviewer behaved negatively due to their "deformity". Amazingly, in some cases the belief continued even after they were shown on video that the scar had been removed.

I've quoted elsewhere on this site "we don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are". What's made clear in this experiment is the power of our self image and the way we find confirmation about how we are being treated even when none exists. It's a very good rule of thumb that when someone acts badly towards you it's much more about them than it is about you. But if you're convinced people are reacting badly because of some fault in you then you will find the evidence to back this up, even if it's not there.

56. Nelson Mandela

Shortly after his release Nelson Mandela was phoned with his congratulations by US President Bill Clinton. In the course of the conversation Clinton asked him, "Surely after such an experience of incarceration you must still feel some anger towards those who kept you in captivity?" Mandela replied "No, I realised if I didn't let go of my anger then those who imprisoned me would still be in control of a part of my life."

Any bad feelings we hold on to means we have given away our power. Such feelings restrict our freedom and they let external forces control us. I'm sure there are good moral reasons to forgive our enemies, to let go of anger and hurt but purely on the basis of self interest, of keeping control of your life, of increasing your freedom it's a good, if not easy, step to take.

57. How heavy is this glass of water? (1)

A lecturer raised a glass of water in his hand, extended his arm and asked "How heavy is this?" Answers ranged from 300g to 500g. The lecturer replied "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I try and hold it. If I hold it for a minute that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it the heavier it becomes.

So, where does this apply in life?

To an unkind comment someone may once have made about you.
To a time in your life when you didn't act as well as you could have done.
To a disappointment you experienced when an expectation of yours was not met.
To a difficult childhood, a divorce, a job loss, you can fill in the rest.

The burden gets heavier the longer you carry it.
You either say goodbye to the past or you say goodbye to the future.

58. How heavy is this glass of water? (2)

A lecturer raised a glass of water in his hand, extended his arm and asked "How heavy is this?" Answers ranged from 300g to 500g. The lecturer replied "The absolute weight doesn't matter. It depends on how long I try and hold it. If I hold it for a minute that's not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I'll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, you'll have to call an ambulance. In each case it's the same weight, but the longer I hold it the heavier it becomes.

So, where does this apply in life?

Same story, different commentary.

The original demonstration was in a stress seminar and here the message is about the need to take time to put down the burdens you shoulder so you have the strength to pick them up and carry them again.
It's amazing what human beings can deal with when they have to and we often hear stories of others and feel, "I doubt I could cope as well". Your ability to cope with stresses and strains, like your ability to hold a glass of water at arms length, is greatly increased if you take regular time out.
And as with the glass it doesn't have to be for long. Here are some examples.

A five minute time of quiet contemplation can transform a morning, or the whole day.
Sitting in the car letting go of the day behind you can make a difference to the evening ahead.
A physical stretch for a few minutes can be a positive energy change.
Two minutes writing out the things you have reason to be grateful for can change you mood.
A short run can help you cope with a long day.

59. The Mad Wal-Mart Experiment

I had a lovely email from a friend in the USA. She wrote about approaching a "rather ferocious, back combed, blonde assistant" in Wal-Mart where she had gone to get a new watch battery fitted. My friend was determined to make the experience a pleasant one for her and the assistant and by her pleasant manner, by smiling often and offering thanks for a job well done succeeded in brightening up the day for both of them.

Now I happen to know the shop assistant and why she looked a bit fearsome that morning. Her house had been burgled the previous evening and, upset by this she had lost attention and crashed her car on the way to work. After the encounter with my friend she felt a lot better, remembered she was insured for both events and went home to enjoy a light hearted evening with her friends and family who also benefited from the experience.

I know what my friend wrote is true, I have no idea if there is any truth to the second paragraph but there could be and that makes the whole watch battery transaction even more worthwhile.

Why the "Mad" Wall-Mart experiment? It stands for Making A Difference, which is what my friend did. We will all have a chance to do likewise today, tomorrow and for the rest of our lives.

60. I've deal with that

There's an old story about an employee at her annual performance review. She'd had a very good year and almost every comment was positive. Just at the end of the interview her boss expressed concern that she tended to set herself and others unrealistic targets, she seemed not to be able to tolerate any failure. She said she would take this on board.

Seeing her boss a week later she commented that she had thought about what was said at the interview and had made some changes in her approach. "So now I must be perfect" she concluded.

It may well be this never happened but I have met many people who are intent on becoming perfect. Most of them have been tense and uptight and I've never felt relaxed in their company. A better life objective might be a combination of growth and acceptance. It's a form of the serenity prayer, accepting the things you cannot change and having the