Recovering the Spirit: Robert Francis’s “Nothing is Far”

When the body is tired, there is coffee and raw sleep. When the spirit is more tired, the prescription seems more tricky. Sometimes there can be recovery in mindless activities like watching television, though for me at least there’s a bit of guilt with that sort of activity since it isn’t exercising my mind in a restorative way so much as allowing the mind to shut down and be entertained. I prefer to revert to introverted tendencies and go inward in a variety of solitary, self- and life-considering ways that I’m sure are obnoxious to some. For me, these mind-engaging activities include reading poetry, which is a bit meditative and calming to allow my mind to chew through something slowly, a deliberate difference with the rushed pace of things that are wearing me out.

In this mindset, I recently read Robert Francis’s “Nothing is Far.” Five short stanzas worth reading and included below in my analysis.

My reading of the poem finds several ideas that I find comforting, perhaps especially now when there is so much uncertainty and turmoil in my mind and life:

Though I never caught the word
of God from any calling bird,
I hear all that the ancients heard.

Though I have seen no deity
Enter or leave a twilit tree,
I see all that the seers see.

Those who came before us experienced nothing at the heart of life that you and I cannot. There was no magical time in human existence where there was not heartbreak, loss, and all of the other troubles that may line our paths. This also means that we have the same chance to experience the same magic and wonder. We can still find spiritual transcendence (“God” and deities) and delight in our lives. We don’t need gods to appear before us to experience wonder.

A common stone can still reveal
Something not stone, not seen, yet real.
What may a common stone conceal?

This stanza meditates on the stone, a common object with nothing blatantly special about it. What other common objects in our life are worth consideration and may reveal to us something of interest? It is not the thing itself revealing something but our own minds. What a beautiful, power thing.

Nothing is far that once was near.
Nothing is hid that once was clear.
Nothing was God that is not here.

Here, this moment, we have everything that anyone else has had at a certain level. Things that we knew, things in our pasts, as individuals and as a species, are still with us and available. Things that we’ve learned are still in our minds, not hidden and forgotten entirely. Whatever existed for the ancients to understand as deities is still with us. The ancients believed there to be elements of God in nature, and if we tune in to nature or anything else, we may see and appreciate that aspect that let people to make that connection with deities, whether we understand it in the same way.

Here is the bird, the tree, the stone.
Here in the sun I sit alone
Between the known and the unknown.

I find this stanza peaceful. We are surrounded by nature and the sun, which is a source of life and often symbolizes truth and goodness. In this moment, we are between the past and the future, and while we do not know what the future holds, we can reflect on the past for guidance and know that we are equipped with everything that those who came before us had as well as the addition of their knowledge and experience. Though imperfect and lacking in so many ways, we can and will survive. This moment is still, and the next may be action as we move into the future.

Breaking apart a poem like this utilizes my head and gives me a moment of still reflection. I find that mentally enjoyable and spiritually satisfying that zoning out to television. If you’re accustomed to zoning out, perhaps try something and compare how you feel afterwards. This can be akin to exercising; you work, which requires effort, but you feel better afterwards.

Cheers, and happy Sunday!

Surprising Yourself

Halloween may prime us to be receptive to change and to be open to new things in the month of October. There is an element of surprise in many Halloween activities, and the decorations associated with the holiday have a ooo factor that shock us in one way or the other.

funny cat in pumpkinThat’s a hypothesis at least. Maybe you find nothing about October to encourage you to be open to new things and surprising yourself. In that case, I encourage you to be open to new things. boo.

I had a moment of surprise recently. The October issue of Real Simple included mention of a tool, a derma roller, in their article “9 Secrets to Great Skin.” I’d never heard of a derma roller before, and when I started to look into it, it sounded bizarre. The  tool pokes tiny holes in your skin and is supposed to help improve the look of your skin and let skincare chemicals be more effective.

Sound crazy? I thought so, too. Initial searches online seemed crazy, too, along the lines of the sort of thing I may see for the next fad diet, etc. And I don’t do diets. Them’s just nuts.

However, I saw an article with a NIH address, and the National Institutes of Health is a respected authority. So, I looked in their online repository and was surprised by what I found: derma rollers actually can be effective, especially for helping diminish certain kinds of scarring.

Sometimes, our initial thoughts about things turn out to be wrong. That can be a good thing. The biggest hurdle to surprising ourselves in this way, though, sometimes is that it’s hard to know to keep looking for evidence. I wanted the initial information about the derma roller to be true, but what I encountered at first make it seem unlikely. If I hadn’t wanted it to be true, maybe I would have laughed off the whole idea as total bunk.

This is a minor example focusing on a rather silly item, a beauty tool, but what other sorts of things are we not seeing in our daily lives because of initial bias? Do our kids actually like sports or music practice? Does our significant other actually like the “favorite” meal that is made at least once a month because there seems to be an obligation to do so?

Challenge yourself to consider “what if” for one item today. Consider the opposite perspective or argument, and see what happens. Maybe nothing changes, but learning to question our current perspective can lead to remarkable surprises.


For further reading:

Doddaballapur, Satish. “Microneedling with Dermaroller” 2009

Imran, Majid. “Microneedling Therapy in Atrophic Facial Scars: an objective assessment.” 2009

Treating Children as Experts

My job requires that I ask a lot of different folks to use their expertise in various ways, from training other people, writing documentation, explaining their projects, and more. I have my field of expertise, and I respect (as a default at least, until people prove themselves idiots) that they were hired because they were good at something. I don’t practice medicine on myself; I go to a doctor who was trained in the field. There’s a similar reliance throughout our everyday lives, from mechanics to teachers to cooks.

That kind of specialization frees us up to not have to be experts in everything as individuals, but it requires that we trust people.

My 2.5 year-old daughter is her own expert. I know a lot about her. I observe her. I see aspects of myself in her that she doesn’t really know what to do with yet (patience? good luck, kid. you got that terrible impatience from your momma. sorry). But, I am not her. I don’t know what goes on in her head or would make her happy at this exact moment.

I don’t think it’s outrageous to consider kids experts of themselves. If I want to understand why my daughter is upset, I ask her. She may not be able to tell me very easily, either because her vocabulary is still growing or because she’s emotionally immature, but by putting that question to her, I show her respect and give her the chance to prove herself capable.

If she isn’t ready to respond as needed or as appropriate, I can pull back into more of the guiding, mothering mode and take more control rather than letting her guide.

Give people chances to grow and rise to the occasion, and sometimes they will. Keep giving children these chances, and they grow into them. It also shows them respect. My daughter will always be my darling, but I respect her as an individual who not only shows me a perspective that I appreciate but also helps me learn and become a better mother and person.


Key items:

  • Children are worthy of respect.
  • They are experts of themselves and their worlds.
  • Try talking to children as if they were as mature as adults. They definitely aren’t adults, but what happens if you give them the opportunity to be treated as one?
  • How would you respond to a coworker who was having a similar emotional response (not the behaviors that result, like crying, but instead the emotion causing the reaction, like the anger, sadness, or desire to be silly)?

5 Cheap Kids’ Activities for a Fall Weekend

    1. Make leaf prints. Find leaves outside and paint one side of them. Press onto a sheet of paper, and examine the veins that appear in the printed art.
    2. Collect acorns during your walks. I have a little box into which my daughter puts one acorn from each walk into the box. It’s a nice little treasure trove for her, and it makes use of something, the little box, that could easily have turned into a useless knickknack just gathering dust.closet-1209917_1920
    3. Rearrange their rooms or closets. The changing weather can be a good time to change out bedding for heavier sheets or blankets and to move cold weather clothes to more prominent, easy-to-access areas. This can be a fun game for kids. It gives them autonomy and choice, especially if you let them take it a bit further and move things around in their room, like repositioning the bed or a chair. Not all kids may enjoy this, but some may see the change as exciting and fun.
    4. Play a family game all weekend, like pointing out all of the pumpkins or ghosts. You may see decorations outside people’s houses, inside stores, and more. Especially if you have to run errands, this may be a bit of a distraction for kids. See a pumpkin in the grocery store and get to sample something with pumpkin? Awesome! Or grab something else relating to your chosen object, like pumpkin cereal bars or putting a napkin over your hand to look like a ghost.
    5. Read a fall- or Halloween-themed book at the bookstore or local library. Yeah, you knew I had to add something about books. Cause reading is awesome. It just is.


Fall has certainly arrived here in New Jersey. I dread the snow coming later, but for now, the fall weather is lovely. Wishing you a wonderful first weekend in October!

This (Imperfect) Moment is Enough

In A House for Hope, Rebecca Parker writes the first chapter, “The Holy Ground,” and discusses the topic of paradise as religions view it, especially how liberal religious communities have viewed it as the earth now  with the possibility for it being what we want, having love and compassion incorporated into the paradise we can create here rather than paradise being completely separate from earthly, mortal existence.

If that sounds too heavy, I’m not expecting you to go read the chapter (though it’s only about 15 pages long and currently* available through Google books if you are interested in reading it).

Rather, the concept of being comfortable with where we are in this moment is worth highlighting. My life is not as I want it to be. I accept that. I want more. And, I can keep reaching for more. But, in this moment, I can find peace with where I am, what I have here, and make the most of it.

This is enough.

The following excerpt from the book may illustrate the idea. The author is on a bus touring a national park and speaking to one of the other travelers, who fosters kids and who acknowledges the heartbreak and brokenness of that work.

He asked what book topic I was working on now, and I answered, “Paradise.”

“Paradise,” he mused, and looked out the window of the bus for a few moments at the bright sky, the deep green pine forests, the alpine meadows coming into view, and rising above them, the sharp peaks of the Minarets.

“Do you mean ‘paradise’ like where we are right now?”

“Yes,” I said. “Like where we are right now.”

We both gazed out the window for a few moments, breathing the pungent fresh air.

“This is enough,” he said.

“You know that because you help kids,” I said.

A cloud of thoughtfulness passed over his face.

“Yes,” he replied, “that’s right.”

We come to know this world as paradise when our hearts and souls are reborn through the arduous and tender task of living rightly with one another and the earth. Generosity and mutual care are the pathways into knowing that paradise is here and now. This way of life is not utopian. It does not spring from the imagination of a better world. It brings hope home to today, to this moment and its possibilities for faithful love.

The author and her fellow traveler are not naive; they’ve experienced much in the world, including the heartbreak it has to offer. But, they accept the imperfection, strive for closer to perfection, and accept the moment for what it is.

I find a meditative peace in that. Now is enough. Where we are now is okay for this moment. In another moment we will be somewhere else, and so the world turns.

Repeat after me…

This is not where I want to ultimately be. I am working towards something better, always reaching. This is a step along the path, and the journey is worthwhile.

I am not perfect, and that is okay. I work to improve life for myself and those around me. I have value even in my imperfect state.

This moment is enough.


Further Reading

A house for hope*As of September 24, 2016, Chapter 1 of A House for Hope, which I reference here, is fully available here through Google books.

Winter, Eyal. “Why is it Hard to Live for the Moment.” Psychology Today. 19 Sept. 2016