Virtues in Paradise
Linda Kavelin-Popov is co-founder of The Virtues Project and best-selling author of ‘The family virtues guide’, ‘A pace of grace’, ‘Graceful endings’ and other books on virtues. In this regular column, she explores virtues in the Cook Islands context. You can find out more about her work at www.virtuesproject.com or www.gracefulendings.net.
During a book tour in Spain for The Family Virtues Guide (Las Virtudes Familiares), a radio host asked me an interesting question.
One of the things I learned when serving as Spiritual Care Director at a Hospice was that dying people don’t really want someone to cheer them up.
They need someone to meet them wherever they may be on a given day, someone who can be compassionate yet comfortable with their tears, their confusion, their worries, or their humour.
When any of us is hurting, feeling loss, grief, confusion, anger, or joy for that matter, the last thing we need is for someone to talk us out of it.
Quaker theologian Douglas Steere said, “To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure and discovery is almost the greatest service any human being ever performs for another.”
I don’t know why we are so ready to come up with little sayings, like ‘it’s okay’ ‘be strong’ and ‘you need to fight this’.
Not to mention all manner of sayings about God’s will, as if we can speak for Him.
One day when I was at the airport, a woman I had recently met beckoned me over to sit with her.
She told me she was leaving the island to visit a sister in Auckland who was very ill.
She said, “I don’t know why she asks for me. She’s surrounded by family. And I visited her a couple of months ago.”
“What do you do that is different?” I asked her.
“Well, they all tell her to fight it, and I don’t. I just sit with her and listen and hold her hand.”
“To me, that is called ‘spiritual companioning’”, I said.
“She must feel peaceful when you are there.”
“Yes, she does seem to calm down.”
Then she asked an important question.
“What do I do when she cries?” I said, “When she cries, use your compassionate curiosity and ask her ‘What are those tears?’ and then listen. If she can no longer speak, say ‘Good on you, Sis, bless your healing tears.’”
Her face lit up and she said, “I can do that. And I’ll ask God to make her well.”
“Do you honestly think she is going to get well?”
Sadly, she shook her head. “Well, maybe it’s best to ask God to do His will and to give her mercy. Only God knows how long she is meant to live.”
She cried a bit and I sat with her, holding her hand.
Then I said, “I’ll tell you a great secret. Before you see her, put a shield over your heart of detachment and compassion, so that you can be with her without taking on her feelings.”
We hugged and I told her “Your sister is really blessed to have your compassionate presence at a time like this.” Then she went out to board the plane.
Her sister did die, and I’m sure my friend’s peaceful, accepting presence was a mercy for her in her last days, giving her a more graceful end of life experience.
We all need companions willing to listen to us at any time of life.
Eco warriors stash the trash!
Calling all eco warriors! It’s time to stash the trash! Have you noticed that here in Paradise, sometimes it looks clean and pristine (probably after a village clean-up) and other times, it looks like it’s turning into a rubbish dump?
I have always admired the faithful way people continually rake their rubbish, whatever falls from the trees or lands in their yards. Yet, others are so careless of these islands -- jewels of beauty the Lord has placed in the Pacific.
I taught my children never to litter. One time, we were speeding along a busy highway in the U.S. One of my sons tossed a gum wrapper out the window, and I pulled over and backed the car up to pick it up. I told them, “Never, ever litter. We are stewards of God’s beautiful earth. We have to take care of it.”
Recently, I’ve been growling to myself about the amount of trash casually tossed from bikes or cars onto the verges, especially after Friday and Saturday nights, when people tend to go to the bars. Not one to stand idly by, I invested six dollars in an excellent “grabby thing” at a pharmacy overseas. Early one morning, I decided to try out my new toy, I mean tool. I set out with a large green eco-friendly bag (available at Vonnias, CITC and free from the Aitutaki Conservation Trust) and started grabbing paper, glass and plastic rubbish. I was thinking, “I probably won’t find much, so I’ll use the bag again tomorrow.” How wrong could I be? By the time I was finished clearing a small section of road, the bag was chock full of drinks cans, beer bottles, plastic cups, ice containers, straws, candy wrappers, plastic bags, and to top it off, a huge piece of Styrofoam. I felt like crying. How can anyone not appreciate this God-given beauty which we share with tourists who bike and drive along our roads? They gaze at the sparkling sea, luxuriating in one of the rare places on earth where natural beauty is still un-marred by high rises or too many man-made things. Does their bubble of bliss pop when they glance down to see trash lining the roadways?
One of the first things that delighted me when we first arrived was the recycling initiative. Bins for rubbish, and recycling are all over. How blessed we are to have this program! And bless the eco-warriors putting huge effort into the recent clean-up initiatives both on land and under water, including those from our primary schools!
“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.” (Leviticus 15) A Scottish proverb says, “If each before his own door swept, the village would soon be clean.” Here are ways to take on this sacred task:
1. Stop before you drop! Stop and think before you throw anything on the road.
2. Stash your trash! Carry a plastic bag for rubbish, or put it in your pocket and wait till you can toss it in a bin.
3. Do your bit. When you see rubbish on the beach or the road, clean it up. Do it as a service to the One Who created these beautiful islands.
4. Pass it on: Don’t just stand by and watch others litter. Remind them to be responsible.
If every one of us does our part, we will soon have a land and seascape that is pristine and sparkling clean, a Paradise to be proud of. Calling all eco-warriors. Let’s stash that trash!
Fun, food galore at school gala
IT SEEMED like the entire island turned out to make the most of the food, fun and wicked prizes at the Apii Te Uki Ou Gala yesterday afternoon.
Families and school supporters were out in numbers to support the schools fundraiser and to enjoy the fantastic festival atmosphere.
The beautiful food, bargains, creative arts and crafts as well as the fantastic prizes including dinner vouchers also had something to do with the crowd numbers at the school.
While the adults shopped up a storm, youngsters made the most of the fun activities including the horizontal bungy, sponge throwing and the favourite among the smaller kids – rides on the fire truck.
There’s no doubt the day was a success for the school and parents who worked hard to provide products for the day and to man the numerous stalls and activities on offer.
A few weeks ago, my brother Tommy contacted me to tell me that his beloved wife had died suddenly the night before.
ere in Paradise, too often we have to bury our young people and others who are “gone too soon.” Just after, my husband Dan and I landed in Rarotonga from the U.S., we saw a pastor from Aitutaki who was taking a three week workshop. I asked him, “What topic is so important that it merits three weeks?!” “Our youth,” he said gravely – many of whose lives are shortened or destroyed by alcohol, drugs, or crime. He mentioned sadly that a young man had just died as a result of his injuries in an alcohol-related motor bike crash.
There are families, teachers and counselors applying The Virtues Project worldwide. Particularly in indigenous communities with high suicide rates, they find that virtues strategies help children to live longer and live better. These include:
• Speaking the Language of Virtues to mirror the strengths in children and youth, showing them their own inner gifts as well as to correct them.
• Recognizing Teachable Moments: seeing troubling behaviors not as a chance to call them names, labeling them as “lazy” or “bad”, but as an opportunity to call them to a virtue they need to practice.
• Mentoring bullies to tap into their compassion in order to become true leaders.
• Having Clear Boundaries at home, school, and work based on Restorative Justice where amends are made, and self-esteem is sustained.
• Honoring the Spirit with music, dance, prayer, reflection and spiritual programs that are inspiring and meaningful to their daily lives.
• Companioning young people -- listening to their troubles, and tapping into their wisdom, thereby making them partners in combatting the challenges youth face.
Virtues Project Facilitators are working in prisons, including Rarotonga, helping young people who have taken a wrong turn in the road to redeem and reclaim their lives by choosing to bring their virtues to life. I will never forget a 12 year old girl I met at a Youth Detention Centre in the U.S. She had killed someone as her gang initiation. After a one hour session introducing the young inmates to virtues, she said, “Can I give you a hug? I knew I needed a new lifestyle when I get out of here, but I had no idea what it was. Now I know! The virtues! They’re who I really am, like you said, right?” I have seen the same response in prisoners who are much older and confined for life sentences. When we realize that we can live a soulful life whenever we choose, it brings hope to the hopeless.
A 14 year old who was required to attend a five day workshop Dan and I gave in Yap, confessed to me during the celebration feast that week, that he was a bully. He was a big fellow, and placed his huge “paws” on my shoulders as he spoke earnestly. “Linda, I want to be a man of virtue!” I acknowledged his purposefulness and then asked him, “So, do you have control over others, the power to make them do what you want?” “Yes,” he answered sheepishly. “Well, do you know that means you are a natural leader?” His big brown eyes lit up. “If you wrap that power around service, I promise you will be a leader in this community one day.” He began to jump up and down with excitement and the whole building, which was on stilts, began to shake. People looked around as if there were an earthquake, and there was one -- in his soul.
I attended a service at a local Seventh Day Adventist church, and was in awe of the young woman in her teens leading a group discussion for the mamas. Her passion and faith shone on her lovely face. She was eloquent in articulating Bible teachings about prayer and seeking guidance. I left feeling deep hope for our young people, for here was an example of a life of purpose that would last all her days.
Have you ever looked out over the waves of the sea, or gazed up at a night sky filled with countless stars, and wondered, “Why am I here?”
One can feel so small, it is hard to believe that each of us is a special being created by God for this time and this place – each of us unique, each with our own song to sing as we pass through this world.
Were you one of those kids who never wanted to miss anything? Who didn’t want to go to sleep if the family was doing anything remotely interesting? I was. And now in my elderhood, I haven’t changed. I don’t want to miss a single spiritual assignment the Creator has ordained for me. I don’t want to overlook even one Teachable Moment.
I recently heard a well-respected elder say, rather sadly: “I have lived a long time. I’m about to retire, yet I still don’t know what my purpose is.”
It is not uncommon to wonder about this or to feel lost if we haven’t discerned our purpose at any given season. When Alice was lost in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat said: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” We are told in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven”.
I remember my Sunday School teacher saying that when she was a child the age I was then – about six years old – she wrote a letter to a spiritual leader of our faith. She wrote, “Beloved Master, why are we here? Love, Ruhiyyih” Soon, she received a letter from him. It said, “Beloved Ruhiyyih, we are here to acquire the virtues of the Kingdom. Love, Abdu’l Baha”
It seems to me that the ability to stay deeply present to our own lives and to recognise whatever task or virtue we are called to in a given day or season, depends on detaching from the distractions that can trip us up or keep us literally out of our minds.
The Holy Bible speaks of two major traps which can keep us from our purpose: being double-minded and being double-hearted. We must trust in God’s guidance and watch out for the dangers of doubt: “...one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind... he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways,” James 1 6-8.
Another dangerous distraction is to leave the holy ground of truthfulness and to speak, as the saying goes, out of both sides of our mouth. “They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak,” Psalm 12:2.
We need to have faith that we can be guided to know our purpose, as long as we stay scrupulously honest. Discerning our purpose at each season of life begins with simply asking, “and it shall be given,” Mathew 7:7.
Once we have a sense of our calling, the key to accomplishing it is to focus our whole mind and heart on it:
“So long as the thoughts of an individual are scattered he will achieve no results, but if his thinking be concentrated on a single point, wonderful will be the fruits thereof…Thus is it necessary to focus one's thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force.” (Selected Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 111).
Buddhism teaches the power of “single-pointed concentration”. I recently heard a message in meditation which has been very helpful: “Don’t judge what is big or what is small in what you do.” Perhaps one small act of kindness to an intimate or a stranger is more luminous in God’s eyes than completing what appears to us to be a very big job.
Steps to living a truly purposeful life are:
1. Pray and reflect on what your purpose is at this time in your life with faith that the answers will be given to you.
2. Avoid the traps of double-minded doubt and double-hearted deception.
3. Don’t scatter your energies in too many directions. Stay focused and single-minded.
4. Do one thing at a time, whole-heartedly and mindfully.
5. Be aware of the virtues in the way you think, speak, and act.
Yes, this is a tall order. Yet, it holds the keys to the Kingdom.
When I was in primary school, the first ever IQ tests were given. There was a lot of buzz about this new way of measuring a child’s “intelligence quotient”.