Monday, June 30, 2008

Spiritual Bridge Builders

Over this past weekend I attended the graduation ceremony for One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, in New York City, where I was trained as an interfaith minister.

I graduated from the seminary in 2005, and was chosen to be one of two class speakers to represent my classmates during the ceremony.

I was quite honored to be able to take the podium at Riverside Church, in New York city,where the likes of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela have spoken. It was an awesome experience.

I felt that I wanted to share my commencement address (very brief). It was a glimpse into what I see as the role of the interfaith movement in our troubled world.

Commencement Address ~ Rev. Nola Drazdoff
One Spirit Interfaith Seminary
June 26, 2005

It doesn’t really take much to look around at what’s happening in the world and come to the conclusion that, “There must be a better way.” But, it takes tremendous determination and courage to go beyond wishing and talking… and step out to actually create that better way.

The members of the One Spirit graduating class of 2005 have done just that. We have come to this place… this program… because we are committed to participating in a different vision of this world… and the powerful role that spirituality not only can but must play in it.

There is not a single person in this class who has ever sat on the sidelines of life and watched it pass by. Ultimately, each of us has been called to be part of the next wave of spiritual evolution. The Interfaith movement is an essential part of that next wave, and is quite possibly the key element in bringing our troubled world together.

I believe that we all have a role to play in that unfolding process… and that is why we are graduating today from this particular seminary. We… are spiritual bridge builders. We… are spiritual pioneers… leading the way for a massive shift in consciousness... past the old ideas of religious separation, superiority and exclusivity to a place of respect, acceptance and inclusion… for all peoples… and
all spiritual paths.

It’s time for a new paradigm of what it means to be a presence of love and Spirit in this world… of what it means to be a “minister.” One Spirit is on the cutting edge of creating and defining that new paradigm… as are we… the newest officially ordained Interfaith Ministers.

Many are called… but few will answer. We answered... as did everyone who is involved in One Spirit. On behalf of the class of 2005, I would specifically like to thank and honor Rev. Diane Berke and Rev. Michael Pergola the co-founders of One Spirit. Thank you for your vision and your courage to birth and grow this organization! I am certain that this institution will have a global impact that none of us can even imagine!

And… to my classmates: I am truly honored to have walked this path with each one of you this past two years and I personally am comforted and inspired to know that each of you are out there, moving through your corner of the world with powerful presence… shining light into the dark corners of life.

Me giving the commencement address on behalf of my classmates in the magnificent Riverside Church, June 26, 2005.

Different Mirrors

I had an interesting experience in a hotel room recently. The mirror over the bathroom vanity seemed to distort my image a bit. It made me look heavier and somehow 'compressed.' Not a particularly flattering 'change' to my appearance. The light over that mirror was also a strange yellow, that highlighted red spots on my face and, well, lets just say it didn't bring out my best features.

There was another mirror in the room. A full length mirror that seemed to portray a more realistic representation of my body. The light over that mirror was also more flattering.

I was struck by how I 'felt' each time I looked in the funky mirror. I would sort of cringe inside. Even though I knew it wasn't a realistic portrayal of what I look like. Part of me 'believed' the mirror. I eventually made a decision to stop looking at myself in that mirror, and to only use the full length mirror to 'check myself out.' :)

It actually reminded me of some of the mental processes that I can sometimes catch myself in. The funky mirror, to me, represented my distorted thinking about myself - be it appearance or abilities/competence. Sometimes I can get stuck in thinking about myself in ways that aren't accurate. If I believe that thinking, I start to 'feel' worse about myself. When I 'get my head on straight' and correct my thinking, I feel better. Just like looking in the funky mirror caused me to 'cringe' and looking in the full length mirror made me feel better.

Distorted thinking, just like a distorted mirror, gives us a false impression of who we really are. If we 'buy in' to the distortion, we live less fully and completely than what we are capable of.

Make sure the mirror you are gazing in to is accurately reflecting your image to you. Be it a physical piece of glass or the mirror in your own mind!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Meat Eating Monks

I had a very strange experience the other day. I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch and two Buddhist monks were seated at the table next to me. They were in full regalia with red robes and closely shaved heads. This is not an ordinary sight at this particular restaurant. They are known for their large portions. I would even call their portions excessive. I eat there a lot, but have a couple of items on the menu that I order that are unusually small (by their standards) or I end up taking home a lot of food. It just didn't seem like a good fit to see the monks in this particular restaurant.

It got even more interesting for me when I overheard them ordering. They ordered a New York steak! Buddhists, as a rule, are vegetarian. It is a philosophy that teaches to harm no living creature. It just seemed really discordant to hear these two monks ordering a rare beef steak.

They went on to order quite a lot of food. These were not large men.

I found this all very confusing.

Now, in all fairness, all of us, no matter what our path, do not follow it to the letter of the law all the time. Nor, in my humble opinion, should we. I don't believe in getting so caught up in the 'letter of the law' that we lose site of the true 'spirit of the law.' I don't hold people to models of perfection. We all have our flaws and our struggles.

This, however, seemed particularly strange to me, because this wasn't just "Joe Smith" who considers himself to be a student of the Buddhist teachings. These were obviously men who have chosen a high level of commitment to and practice of the tenants of the Buddhist path. In some ways, I was a little 'disappointed' to see those who are supposed to be at the leading edge of the tradition, 'struggling with' (or giving in with reckless abandon) to an act that so clearly violates one of the primary pillars of the belief system.

Maybe that's unfair of me. Perhaps my judgementalness is showing through. It just seems that by their dress and public display of 'Buddhist-ness' they are putting themselves out there as representatives of the spiritual path, and to express such a clear violation of its teachings, without an obvious 'struggle' seemed surreal to me.

I certainly don't walk my talk 100% of the time. I know that I do things regularly that violate my own spiritual beliefs. I work each and every day to bring my behavior in to more successful alignment with my underlying values and spiritual beliefs.

Perhaps I need to practice a little more compassion to these fellows. I don't know their story. Maybe they were conducting an experiment to see why so many people insist on eating meat. Maybe they were testing to see if they would feel 'guilty' and be overcome with emotion after 'failing' to uphold a cornerstone ideal of their belief system. I might not know the whole story.

Or, maybe they are just human beings, walking their path as best they can and not doing it perfectly, just like me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

View of Yard Work From Heaven

A friend of mine passed this on to me and I found it very thought provoking. As an avid gardener, I can relate to some of the curious human behaviors that this article brings to light. We might do well to rethink some of our 'culturally agreed upon conventions' when it comes to asthetic beauty in our yards.

Yard Work – As Viewed from Heaven
(As overheard in a conversation between God and St. Francis)

GOD: Francis, you know all about gardens and nature; what in the world is going on down there in the US? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistles and the stuff I started eons ago?

I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought, and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees, and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of color by now. All I see are patches of green.

St. Francis: It’s the tribes that settled there, Lord. They are called Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers “weeds” and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it is so boring, it’s not colorful. It doesn’t attract butterflies, bees or birds, only grubs and sod worms. It’s tempermental with temperatures. Do these suburbanites really want grass growing there?

St. Francis: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it has grown a little, they cut it… sometimes two times a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they bale it like hay?

St. Francis: Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

St Francis: No sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now let me get this straight… they fertilize it to make it grow and when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

St. Francis: Yes, Sir.

GOD: These suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

St. Francis: You aren’t going to believe this Lord, but when the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense! At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep the moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves become compost to enhance the soil. It’s a natural circle of life.

St. Francis: You’d better sit down, Lord. As soon as the leaves fall, the suburbanites rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No way!! What do they do to protect the shrubs and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

St. Francis: After throwing the leaves away, they go out and buy something called mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

St. Francis: They cut down the trees and grind them up to make mulch.

GOD: ENOUGH! I don’t want to think about this anymore. Saint Catherine, you’re in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

St. Catherine: “Dumb and Dumber,” Lord. It’s a really stupid movie about…

GOD: Never mind – I think I just heard the whole story from Saint Francis!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Between the Beginning and the Completion

I attended a graduation ceremony yesterday for One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City. This is the seminary I graduated from 3 years ago.

I had a student I've mentored for the past 2 years who was a part of the class of 2008. It was exciting to watch another group of interfaith ministers step fully into their new roles as "spiritual change agents" for a suffering world.

One of the speakers talked about the fact that after the beginning, and before the 'completion' of any endeavor, there is 'the enduring.' There are miles to walk, bridges to cross and obstacles to overcome. There are good times, difficult times and times when it seems that nothing, good or otherwise, is really happening at all.

It is all part of the process. We can't get to completion without riding out the 'enduring' process of going through what needs to be gotten through.

A minister I like to listen to often speaks of the process of planting seeds and harvesting the crop. She reminds us that there is:

1. Planting
3. Harvest.

The time component is what we don't like very much. We want it NOW. We want it IMMEDIATELY. We don't want to wait.

Babies take 9 months (give or take) to move from conception to birth. It doesn't happen over night.

Whatever your current endeavor... be patient with yourself. Between the beginning and the completion... you must endure the process.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Karate Kid

Do you remember the sweet movie, "The Karate Kid?" I watched part of it on TV last night. I have always loved that movie!

I particularly resonate with the part of the movie where Daniel, the teenage boy at the center of the story, has made a deal with Mr. Miyagi to study Karate under his tutelage. Daniel quickly becomes frustrated when each day, he shows up to study Karate, and is instead instructed by Mr. Miyagi to do various projects around his house and yard. Mr. Miyagi has him wash and wax all his old collectible cars, paint his huge fence and sand down a rather immense expanse of a deck.

Daniel finally explodes in anger, feeling that he has been taken advantage of by the older gentlemen.

Then Mr. Miyagi reveals that all of the seemingly unrelated tasks that Daniel has been doing have created the building block and foundational moves he will need to be a good fighter in Karate.

Daniel is amazed at all he actually knows. It wasn't at all obvious to him when he was washing, waxing, painting and sanding that he was being prepared for a greater purpose.

This is how it often goes in life for all of us. Many times we don't understand why we have to do some of the things that come in to our life experience. Often we don't want to do those things. Sometimes they are unpleasant. Yet, each experience we have, can in some way prepare us for our future, or cultivate some skill or strength of character that will serve us well in other contexts.

It is important to keep that perspective as we journey through life and to always look for ways that our experiences, even the unpleasant ones, can serve us in achieving our goals and living the life we aspire to live.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Giving in Different Traditions

I decided that today I would share some ideas from various spiritual/religious traditions about "Giving." A concept so prevalent in so many traditions is bound to be 'the truth.' All spiritual traditions in some way encourage us to give and to consider other people's wellbeing along with our own. Surely this is "TRUTH."

Christianity: It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Taoism: Extend your help without seeking reward. Give to others and do not regret or begrudge your liberality. Those who are thus are good.

Sikhism: In the minds of the generous contentment is produced.

Islam: The poor, the orphan, the captive -- feed them for the love of God alone, desiring no reward, not even thanks.

Hinduism: Bounteous is he who gives to the beggar who comes to him in want of food and feeble.

Judaism: Blessed is he that considereth the poor: the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Being "In the Club"

I love it when I'm driving along and I see two motorcycles approach each other from opposite directions and give each other their little 'wave' of acknowledgment. Have you seen this ritual? Evidently there is a whole protocol to this ritual. Harley riders typically wave one way, Honda motorcycle riders another. Some wave only at riders on 'their' brand of bike. Other riders wave at any other motorcycle. Yes, there are some who don't wave at all, but we aren't talking about those folks!

I find this to be a sweet and touching practice. To me it speaks to the need for human being to 'belong' to a community. To feel that they are 'part of a larger whole.' It also demonstrates that people like to share the experience of what they are doing with other people, and acknowledge that they 'understand' something that those who are not members of their group don't share. They have a 'secret.'

Some times convertible drivers will do this with similar 'rules' as the motorcycle folks. Some drivers will wave at any other convertible. Others will only wave at someone driving their make and/or model of automobile. It's the same principle at work.

We all need to belong. We all like to 'understand' our experience and share that with other people who also 'understand.'

Next time you are on the road, look for these rituals... and smile at our human love of community and connecting!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Descending in to the Dark Woods

I was taking one of my favorite hikes this past weekend and made some interesting observations about the course of the journey. This particular hike is an 'up and back' hike to a small summit. 1200 feet of elevation gain. It's five miles round trip. It is amazing to me the diversity that is encountered on this little hike. I couldn't help but notice that there was a life metaphor in the journey itself, the various segments of the trail and how the transitions between segments occurred.

The first part of the trail is an exposed hillside full of switchbacks. On a sunny day like today it can be quite warm. No shade is available and the climb is a bit steep. In fact, this section is probably the most difficult part of the entire hike. It can sometimes be unpleasant because some people who hike with their dogs, allow them to use the trail as their doggy outhouse, and fail to pick up after them. Exposed as it is to the hot sun, that can make for a rather smelly climb. (Here is where I will ask pet owners to please catch a clue. No one enjoys smelling your doggie's discards! Please pick it up!!)

I sometimes wonder, as a regular on the trail, how many people do that initial climb, smelly and physically challenging as it is and conclude that they aren't up to the hike and turn back. That would be a real shame since it is truly the most difficult part of the hike, and the only part that EVER smells bad.

After that initial climb, there are periods of gentle climbing, some slight downhill sections and some flat segments. It's a nice blend. Occasionally you encounter a bit of a steep climb once again.

I'm most intrigued today by the section of forest that you enter quite suddenly, and the light level reduces drastically. The temperature drops noticeably and it is quite dimly lit, even on a bright, sunny day. You feel as though you have been transported to another world. The earthy smell of the forest floor, masses of sword ferns and groves of towering evergreen trees surround and engulf you as you walk. It is important to keep your eyes on the trail, because in the low light conditions it is easy to trip on a root or rock as you move along.

As I was in the deep woods part of my hike, I made note of the reduced light, as I always do. On this particular hike, however, it was when I made a bit of a climb and suddenly burst out of the deep woods that I started thinking about the symbolism of this part of the hike.

I had to work really hard at the beginning of the hike, and almost immediately, I was plunged into the cold and deep woods. Metaphorically, it was cold, dark and although I knew it was a beautiful, sunny day, that was hard to see from where I was walking. The deep woods represents to me a difficult time in one's life. A time when it is difficult to see the outer reality, because of an engulfing, all encompassing darkness. Yet, when you are there, you must keep moving if you want to come out on the other side. If you simply sit down in the deep woods, you just might freeze or starve to death. The light is not going to come to you. You must go to the light.

Bursting into the light happened quite suddenly. I didn't even realize that the change was happening. I was quite focused on the trail, and did notice the the climb had gotten steeper. My job was to safely navigate the ascent. Then all of a sudden I realized that I was emerging into the bright sunlight once again. This time, filtered by the trees, but definitely lighter, warmer and very inviting.

It reminded me that if we just keep moving through the dark times, putting one foot in front of the other, we eventually will come out into the light once again. Our job is to keep moving.

Even after I got into the light, there were still some difficult climbs ahead, mixed in with more gentle parts of the path. My heart rate would soar as I would make the steep climbs. Then my heart rate would recover as I took a water break, or walked a flatter or less challenging part of the trail. This reminded me that no challenge lasts forever and it is perfectly OK to stop and catch one's breath occasionally when taking on a challenge.

After the darkness comes the dawn. There is often an 'entry fee' (just like the initial hot, stinky, climb on this hike) to be paid in order to go where we want to go. Most things worth having or doing require effort, persistence and willingness to keep moving, even when it's hard... or hot... or stinky... or dark and scary.

The reward is the view from the top of our achievement! It's well worth the effort!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Celebrating Fathers

Yesterday was Father's Day in the USA. It is a day set aside to celebrate the men in our lives and their very important role in the molding of our children and our society.

I love that we have days like Father's day. I don't think people take these sorts of holidays seriously enough sometimes. We shouldn't need to be reminded to appreciate one another... but somehow, we seem to need reminding!

I wish we celebrated fathers and mothers (and grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, etc.) each and every day. The nurturing, guiding and loving of our children is the most important thing that we, as a species will ever do.

Children are indeed the future, and without the guidance and nurturing given by those who love them, they cannot possibly fulfil their potential and take on the world when their turn comes.

Fathers have such power in the lives of their children. Fathers teach their kids what it means to be a man. For better or worse, the imprints left by our fathers stay with us for our entire lives. The imprint can be positive, empowering and motivating, or it can be destructive. Of course there is a continuum there, and since there are no perfect fathers, for most of us the imprint is a blending of positive and negative.

My own father taught me a lot about making my own way in the world, as well as how to have fun along the way. He had a great sense of humor and everyone loved to be around him. I think one of the most important lessons he taught me was how to be generous... and to always think the best of people. At times I've been hurt by doing this, but I still believe it is the best way to live life. I appreciate my dad for instilling this quality in me.

When I was away at college, my dad would send me funny comic strips, little notes, and dollar bills in the mail - almost every week. It meant so much to know that even though I was away from home, he was still thinking of me, caring about me... supporting me as I stretched my wings and flew into a new life. Somehow just knowing he was there... gave me strength to face the challenges of my life and forge ahead.

Father's day always makes me miss my dad. He passed away in 1997. I seem to miss him more with each passing year.

On one of his last father's days I gave him a card that had a portion (the bolded section) of the following quote by Kahlil Gibran on it:

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and he bends you with his might that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

I love this quote as a way to describe the role of parent's in a child's life. It rang particularly true to me about my own father in my life. He was a stable constant, and his sacrifices and life's work launched me into the life that I currently enjoy.

In honor of all Fathers everywhere... Happy Father's Day! Make sure you appreciate your dad... and any other men in your life who are fathers to our collective human family.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Expecting Too Much Too Fast

"What is destructive is impatience, haste, expecting too much too fast."
~ May Sarton

This quote holds great wisdom for me. Sometimes I am so impatient it is painful! I want to achieve my goals YESTERDAY. I want to have what I desire NOW. I need to have it all done RIGHT NOW. I want everything to happen immediately. THat's not the way life works. Period.

One of life's important lessons is learning how to work diligently towards a goal without demanding instant gratification. Some goals take time. Other goals take a LOT of time. Many things worth achieving simply cannot be done instantly!

We have to learn to tolerate being "in process" in order to achieve the really big goals in life. Demanding too much too soon is destructive, because we might give up if we don't get the immediate results that we desire. The tradgedy is when we give up!

Learning to plug along, day after day, working towards a goal - even when it seems that we aren't making progress - is key to success in life.

Think of a seed planted in the ground. There is a process going on under the earth, even though we can't see or perceive it. Something important is taking place that will eventually allow the little plant to burst forth into the light. Even then, we won't see fruit immediately. If we plant a tomato seed, the plant that eventually pokes up above the ground is not a round red tomato. If we stomp on it in disgust because it isn't a tomato, we will never reap our harvest! We must allow the seed to germinate, to grow, to bust above the ground, and turn in to a tomato plant. It will set buds, create flowers and then create hard tiny green balls. Eventually those will develop and grow into the tomatoes that we seek. At any point in that process, we could give up, cut the plant down and curse it for not giving us what we want. How smart would that be?

Likewise in life, many endeavors require diligent effort and attention OVER TIME in order to eventually produce the desired results.

Never give up... and keep working towards your goal, regardless of what is happening around you!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Taking the Time to Be Sick

I've been absent the past couple days from the blogosphere. I came down with a nasty bug of some sort on Monday night and was down for the count until late Tuesday. It might have been food poisoning, although I've searched my mind for any possible culprits and can't for the life of me think of what might have done it! It might also have been a flu bug of some sort, and possibly, my well heeled immune system knocked it out before it could take hold. Whatever it was, I am delighted that it passed quickly and I'm back!

When the sickness gripped me, I did what I think is best to do. I took the time to nurture my body with rest and quiet and I let the healing process take its course. I didn't push myself to keep up with my regular routine. I listened to my body's message and I relaxed into the process I found myself in. I've learned not to struggle against the tide. I go with the flow and let myself have what I need to recover and feel good again.

I was rewarded by a speedy return to health.

Sometimes, in my past, I would push, push, push, and continue working at full speed, even when I could tell I was getting sick. The result when I've done this, is to get sicker and sicker. I would generally be sicker longer... and be 'out' of my normal routine for longer. I've learned that it actually makes sense to 'surrender' to my process (in all ways) and nurture myself back to health.

I attended my personal training session this morning, and my trainer couldn't believe how strong I was. She knew I had been sick the day before! I was even more alert than usual because I had rested so much the previous two days. Go figure.

Honor your body. Heed it's messages. Do what it asks you to do for it's health and well being. You'll be well rewarded. If the body is the temple of our soul, doesn't it deserve to be treated with reverence and respect? When the body is sick, it needs our love, patience, nurturing and respect.

If this is a difficult concept for you, try to imagine what counsel you'd give your best friend, or your child if they were sick. Would you advise them to push and keep going? Or would you counsel them to take it easy and 'get well.' You know the answer! Apply that same compassion and nurturing to your own, precious self!

Happy Healing! :)

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Grass is Always Greener

While I was at my gym working out today, I noticed one of the resident sheep was reaching it's head through the wire fence to eat grass from the other side. I wished that I had a camera with me. It was a hilarious scene. A sheep, in a giant field full of grass, desperately yearning for what is just outside it's reach.

The grass inside the fence looked, to me, exactly the same as the grass outside the fence. THe sheep seemed determined to get the grass that it couldn't easily reach. What is that about?

The old addage is so true. The grass is always greener (on the other side of the fence). When we can't have something, it seems to become more appealing to us. We become easily dissatisfied with what we have, and yearn for what we don't have.

THe antidote, I believe, is to focus on enjoying and appreciating what we do have. It also doesn't hurt to think about what we might find out if we did actually end up with the thing on the other side of the fence that we yearn for. Within a short time, it would become the thing we 'have' and we would automatically start yearning for something else.

To be satisfied with what we have, and not automatically believe that something different is better, we can achieve a clearer perspective on life. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve, or to attain higher levels of success. It only becomes a problem when this yearning is accompanied by an unconsciousness that masks a deeper problem. Chronic dissatisfaction is different from a sincere desire to enhance and improve one's life circumstances. Chronic dissatisfaction pervades all of our situations and renders our life experiences hollow.

APpreciation, on the other hand, can create a satisfying and fulfilled life. We can appreciate fully what we have, while working to improve or enhance it. That, to me, is one of the keys to a happy life.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Beauty is So Much More Than Thin

I'm not big into reality TV shows, and I never actually watched "America's Next Top Model." I was very impressed to hear about the winner of the 10th cycle of this show. Whitney Thompson won this particular round, and she carries the distinction of being the only 'plus sized' competitor to win this particular competition! She competed wearing a US size 10.

With the average size woman in the US wearing a size 14, I am somewhat perplexed with the labeling of size 10 as 'plus size,' but even so, the fact that someone wearing a size 10 could win a mainstream modeling competition is encouraging to me.

I feel that we are experiencing some healthy shifts in regards to body image and perceptions of beauty at this moment in history. There are some encouraging signs, and Ms. Thompson's 'win' is one of them.

I listened to an interview she did on "The Big Idea" with Donny Deutsch. She has such a healthy attitude towards her body. She said that she knows she has big thighs, and she considers that a plus. She said that is one of the things that makes her unique and sets her apart from the other women on the runway. YOU GO GIRL!

This beautiful young woman was told that she needed to lose 50 POUNDS if she wanted to model. 50 POUNDS! She looks fabulous, just as she is. She just decided to keep her 50 pounds and be a model anyway. I'm so impressed with her!

Here is an article on wikipedia about Ms. Thompson:

Here is Wikipedia's discussion of what it means to be a plus size model:

Another encouraging sign to me is Jenny Craig's recent 'shift' in their approach to selling their weight loss program. Queen Latifah has joined the Jenny Craig ranks as a spokesperson, without saying how much weight she wants to lose. Her focus is on being 'a size healthier' rather than on changing her weight or size for appearance sake. I am so happy to see this. In my own recovery from my eating disorder, and the evolution/healing of my body image, this has become my approach. I do not eat or exercise to lose weight. I eat and exercise to become healthier, stronger and increasingly fit. End of story. My goal is to feel good and live a healthy life. Any positive change in my appearance is a by product and a nice extra benefit. It is not my goal.

Jenny Craig's new marketing approach is in line with my own thinking. Valerie Bertinelli's role as a spokeswoman for Jenny Craig started with a lot of focus on the number of pounds she wanted to lose, but that too has shifted. I saw a recent commercial where Valerie has started surfing again and she now declares that she is a 'size surfer girl' when asked to reveal her dress size. I love it.

I have always noticed that Queen Latifah makes no apologies for her weight or body. I admire and appreciate that. I think she is a beautiful, talented and vibrant woman at any size. I suspect that when asked to be a spokesperson for Jenny Craig, she might have had a great deal of influence on the nature of the marketing campaign. That's just a hunch, but it would be consistent with her views of herself.

Here is Queen Latifah's website.

One of the trailblazers in the 'plus size modeling world' is Emme (Melissa Aronson). She's one of my heroes because she was out there blazing that trail before it was fashionable, cool or even acceptable. All women owe her a debt of gratitude.

Here are a couple of websites about Emme:

While there are others who could be acknoweldged and thanked in this cultural shift, I'll leave it at that. I think its exciting that we seem to be expanding our notion of what is beautiful in this culture. It is so important that we learn to accept ourselves as we are, embrace our bodies for what they are, and work towards health and happiness, and not be focused in a shallow and vain way on our appearances. The health of our world depends on us continuing to make this shift.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

When Convenience Turns to Waste

OK. I have a beef to share with you. It's one of my new 'pet peeves' about staying in hotels. Many hotels offer in room coffee makers to allow you to brew your own cup of Java first thing in the morning. A nice touch that I generally appreciate.

The newest 'trend' however, is to have single cup 'disposable' brewing kits. Each kit contains a paper cup and lid, a disposable 'brewing tray' and the coffee filter packet. That means, that instead of just a filter packet being thrown away (while the carafe, brewing tray and coffee cup get washed and reused) we are now throwing away the cup, lid and brewing tray. I guess this was in answer to hygenic concerns. Who knows what someone did with the carafe, brewing tray or coffee cup. Please! I always gave each item a thorough rinse with hot water. How dirty could it be?

To make matters worse, and even more offensive to me, many hotels provide individually packaged 'condiments' (creamer, sugar, artifical sweetener and a stir stick). That means, that if someone needs 1 sugar for their coffee, they are wasting a creamer, a sugar and an artifical sweetener. Usually they get thrown in the trash. In the old days, you would find a little container with packets of sugar, creamer and artifical sweetener. Now, you 'get it all' whether you want it or not, conveniently sealed in a plastic bag that also gets thrown away.

I always feel guilty using these condiment packs now, because I never use artificial sweetener and it always ends up in the trash. If I leave it on the counter, in an idealistic spasm, hoping the maid will take it and use it, I'm certain it ends up in the trash after all.

Why do we need this level of convenience and indulgence. Does it really save that much money to not have the maid replenish a condiment cup? Does it really save the traveler from disease to have all those disposable items available for brewing their coffee? I can't believe it makes that much difference.

It just creates more garbage for the landfills and fosters the prevailing attitude of indulgence and convenience that plagues much of our American society today. We have so much we can throw things away carelessly and without thought.

Restaurant portions in the US also reflect this trend in attitude. The portions served in most American restaurants are 2 - 4 times greater than what a normal person should be eating at one sitting. It seems as though it is the ultimate sign of affluence to be able to waste things without concern. Traveling so much around the world, seeing the standard of living of most of the people on the planet (outside of the US), makes this a very sensitive issue for me. There are hungry people, barely surviving, all around our earth, and we are throwing away massive amounts of food every single day, in every single restaurant around the country. Something is wrong with that picture.

In my own life, I endeavor to be conscious of the resources I use and the impact that I have on the planet. It isn't easy, and I do often experience some pangs of guilt over the luxurious life that I live.

Rather than wallow in guilt, I encourage us all, myself included to be conscious and do the best we can to treat our resources with reverence and respect, to make wise choices about what we do/do not use, and endeavor to not waste what we have available to us in such great abundance. Ordering the right amount of food, sharing a meal with someone, taking home (and actually eating) our leftovers... that's one way we can become more conscious of the resources we have been given.

As for the in room coffee makers... I don't always use these 'single use' systems. If I do, I at least try to resuse the cups and lids I'm given.

Every little bit helps. That is how I try to approach it. Make one simple change. Then another. It is a way of saying to mother earth, "I appreciate what you give me, and I will treat it with respect and reverence."

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Danger of Stereotypes - Rachel Ray

I was quite disheartened to read the article in the NY times on the stink raised by some about the scarf that Rachel Ray was wearing in her recent online Dunkin' Donuts advertisement. It completely illustrates the dangers of generalization and stereotyping. In case you missed the article, Ms. Ray was wearing a black and white scarf that in some way looks like the head scarves worn by some men throughout the Arab world, called Keffiahs.

Some people raised objections to the ad, suggesting that Ms. Ray's scarf was an endorsement of Palestinian organizations (deemed terrorists by the US and Israeli governments). They demanded that Dunkin' Donuts take off the ads. They were successful in painting her scarf as a symbol of terrorism and convinced the company to retract the ad. How very sad.

First off, the Keffiah is a garment worn by many Arabs in many nations, not just Palestinians who belong to particular violent groups. To paint everyone with the same brush and to declare that the Keffiah ALWAYS represents one negative viewpoint or opinion is ludicrous. That's like saying that everyone who wears a Christian cross supports actions like those of Timothy McVeigh (remember the Oklahoma City bombing) or people who blow up abortion clinics in the name of Jesus, the prince of peace.

Why did this work with Rachel's scarf? We live in a time where Muslims and Arabs are demonized and maligned. The generalizations, stereotyping and racial profiling are barreling forward unchecked in this time of Islamaphobia and the acceptability of fearing and disliking Arabs.

It frustrates and disappoints me that Dunkin' donuts would give in to the narrow mindedness of a vocal minority who seek to demonize and villianize Arabs and Muslims to perpetuate their own political and racist agendas. Shame on Dunkin' Donuts.

Ms. Ray was not wearing a Keffiah. Even if she had been, this ad shouldn't have been removed. Being an Arab is not illegal. Being a Muslim is not illegal. The Keffiah is an ancient tradition that has cultural significance that few would bother to understand. The fact that some people who behave in ways we might disagree with, does not negate it's positive cultural and ethnic significance for the vast majority of people who wear it.

If some one wears a wig to rob a bank, would wigs suddenly become a sign that someone is a criminal? How about gloves. Lots of criminals wear gloves, does that mean that everyone who wears a pair of gloves is a criminal? Think about it.

The Keffiah isn't common in our neck of the woods, so it's easy to believe it when someone says it means something. Who would know any different? That's what makes blindly accepting this kind of non-sense so dangerous. It spreads dishonest and destructive lies. It hurts people. It hurts us all. It hurts the world.

Link to the NY Times Article: NY Times Article on Rachel Ray's Scarf

Full text of article:
For Dunkin’, a Tempest in an Iced-Coffee Cup
May 30, 2008

IT was a peculiarly Internet-age controversy.

Dunkin’ Donuts canceled its iced-coffee ad with Rachael Ray, because of “the possibility of misperception” about her scarf.

On May 7, Dunkin’ Donuts began running an ad on its Web site and others, featuring the celebrity chef Rachael Ray holding a cup of the company’s iced coffee while wearing a black-and-white fringed scarf. In the ad, which was shot in a studio, she is shown standing in front of trees with pink blossoms and a building with a distinctive spire.

On May 23, the conservative blog Little Green Footballs posted an item that likened Ms. Ray’s scarf to the type typically worn by Muslim extremists. The blog said that the ads “casually promote the symbol of Palestinian terrorism and the intifada, the keffiyeh, via Rachael Ray.”

Later that day, the conservative blogger Michelle Malkin chimed in, likening the scarf to a keffiyeh and calling it “jihadi chic.” Then the story, as they say on the Internet, went totally viral.

Hundreds of people posted comments, many of them condemning Dunkin’ Donuts. Ms. Malkin continued to blog about what she referred to as the “keffiyeh kerfuffle.” People who claimed knowledge of Islam weighed in, objecting to the ignorance of equating a keffiyeh with terrorism.

On May 24, Dunkin’ Donuts removed the ad from its Web site and others — and was promptly condemned by people who accused the company of caving in to conservative bullies.

Dunkin’ Donuts turned down a request to talk about the episode, but issued a statement. “In a recent online ad, Rachael Ray is wearing a black-and-white silk scarf with a paisley design,” it said. “It was selected by a stylist for the advertising shoot. Absolutely no symbolism was intended.”

The decision to remove the ad, the company said, was made “because the possibility of misperception detracted from its original intention to promote our iced coffee.”

To be sure, the controversy probably got Dunkin’ Donuts a lot more attention than if that hapless stylist had chosen, say, a nice beaded necklace instead. And if there are lessons to be drawn from the incident, they probably relate to the warp speed at which innuendos pulsate through the Internet, as well as the nimbleness the medium gives companies to remove content that suddenly turns controversial.

“When it comes to issues like this,” said Eric Dezenhall, the head of the crisis public relations firm Dezenhall Resources, corporations “don’t want to be anywhere near them and they will cave very, very quickly — anything to stop the pain, anything to stop the press from calling.”

The fastest way to do that, he said, is “to pull the ad and do another one.”

In this case, however, removing the ad did not make the problem go away — far from it. Days later, on May 28, Ms. Malkin published a syndicated column praising Dunkin’ Donuts for removing the ad and reiterating the contention that Ms. Ray “posed for one of the company’s ads in what appeared to be a black-and-white keffiyeh.” She added, “The keffiyeh, for the clueless, is the traditional scarf of Arab men that has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad.” It drew hundreds of comments on her blog and elsewhere.

From there, a backlash to the backlash started to take hold.

An item about the controversy had more than 2,300 votes and 830 comments on Digg, a news aggregation site. A YouTube video, “Rachael Ray Is a Terrorist,” poked fun at the situation, with the narrator saying, “Yes, because when I look at Rachael Ray I think 9/11.” That video drew more than 2,300 comments, and a related story on The Huffington Post had more than 1,200 comments.

“Often the counterstory can become bigger than the original story,” said Adam Selig, the chief executive of Visible Technologies, which helps companies handle their reputations online. “That’s something you have to be very careful about in social media.”

The removal of ads in response to objections is nothing new. Last year, several suicide-themed ads from General Motors, Washington Mutual and Volkswagen were removed after objections from suicide-prevention groups, and animal rights groups have campaigned against certain “Got Milk?” spots and others.

But for all the headache, has anyone’s opinion about the companies in question really been influenced?

“There are scandals that are worth responding to and there are scandals that are worth ignoring, and I think the Internet amplifies these voices,” said Eric Hirshberg, the president and chief creative officer of Deutsch L.A., which created the G.M. spot (which was returned to television after some revision). “But this is no different than the retired grandmother who used to write a handwritten letter because she was offended by a video game ad intended for 17-year-olds.”

Mr. Hirshberg said that the immediacy of the Internet made it seem like an immediate response was necessary, no matter how far-fetched the accusations. “The alternative is to assume that people will simply see through it, draw their own conclusions, and chuckle it off,” he said.

Studiocom, part of the WPP Group, is the agency that created the Rachael Ray ad, and it referred a call for comment to Dunkin’ Donuts. Hill Holliday, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, is the agency that handles much of Dunkin’ Donuts’ traditional advertising, and it too declined to comment.

One Internet executive suggested the mudslinging could be a good thing. “You need to find and do something that is a bit edgy, that is polarizing, that provides some water-cooler conversation,” said Bob Parsons, chief executive of, the Web site registrar that likes to run racy Super Bowl ads. “One of the ways to know that your advertising is working is there will be a segment of the population that is upset by it

Monday, June 02, 2008

What is Wrong with US?

The business of war requires a twisted and oblivious logic. I read this article about cluster bombs and, as always when it comes to matters regarding war, I was astounded.

111 nations drafted a treaty to ban the use of cluster bombs in warfare. These are horrible bombs which 'carpet' a battle field with dozens to hundreds of small explosions. Many of the 'baby bombs' don't explode right away, and are left on the battlefield. Often these later kill or maim innocent civilians who happen across the waiting unexploded 'payload.'

The US, Israel, Russia and a few other nations refused to sign this treaty. They claim the 'value' of cluster bombs in the 'business' of warfare is far to valuable to relinquish.

The following excerpt from the article (below as a link and in full text) was by far the most offensive to me:

"This is a treaty drafted largely by countries which do not fight wars," said John Pike, a defense analyst and director of

"Treaties like this make me want to barf. It's so irrelevant. Completely feel-good," he said.

Asked whether U.S. forces would ever ban or restrict cluster-bomb technology, Pike said, "It's not gonna happen. Our military is in the business of winning wars and using the most effective weapons to do so."

It makes him want to 'barf' that there are people all over the world who want to ban an inhumane and dastardly weapon. Something about that makes me want to barf.

The phrase "Our military is in the business of winning wars..." creeps me out. War should not be a business. Unfortunately in the military/industrial mentality governed US economy... it is all too true. A sad commentary on us as a nation in my opinion.

Pike criticizes the fact that the treaty is drafted by countries who don't fight wars. Surprise... surprise. People who live peacefully are trying to help those less enlightened to find a better way. In Pike's opinion, this should be met with barfing and criticism. It's a crazy world when an opinion like his is the dominant one. The warring nations with all the money, power and ability to destroy.. make the rules and everyone else should just stay out of the way. Lovely.

Cluster bombs are a destructive and deadly weapon. In Israel's war against Lebanon in 2006 it is estimated that they left behind 1 MILLION unexploded 'bomblets' in southern Lebanon. The farmers and shepherds of that area will face endless years of unexpected death and dismemberment. The use of these weapons is barbaric!

Full article: 111 nations, but not US, adopt cluster bomb treaty

111 nations, but not US, adopt cluster bomb treaty
By SHAWN POGATCHNIK, Associated Press Writer
Fri May 30, 6:00 PM ET

DUBLIN, Ireland - Chief negotiators of a landmark treaty banning cluster bombs predicted Friday that the United States will never again use the weapons, a critical component of American air and artillery power.

The treaty formally adopted Friday by 111 nations, including many of America's major NATO partners, would outlaw all current designs of cluster munitions and require destruction of stockpiles within eight years. It also opens the possibility that European allies could order U.S. bases located in their countries to remove cluster bombs from their stocks.

The United States and other leading cluster bomb makers — Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan — boycotted the talks, emphasized they would not sign the treaty and publicly shrugged off its value. All defended the overriding military value of cluster bombs, which carpet a battlefield with dozens to hundreds of explosions.

But treaty backers — who long have sought a ban because cluster bombs leave behind "duds" that later maim or kill civilians — insisted they had made it too politically painful for any country to use the weapons again.

"The country that thinks of using cluster munitions next week should think twice, because it would look very bad," said Espen Barth Eide, Deputy Defense Minister of Norway, which began the negotiations last year and will host a treaty-signing ceremony Dec. 3.

"We're certain that nations thinking of using cluster munitions won't want to face the international condemnation that will rain down upon them, because the weapons have been stigmatized now," said Steve Goose, arms control director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, who was involved in the talks.

However, the treaty envisions their future use — and offers legal protection to any signatory nation that finds itself operating alongside U.S. forces deploying cluster bombs, shells and rockets.

The treaty specifies — in what backers immediately dubbed "the American clause" — that members "may engage in military cooperation and operations" with a nation that rejects the treaty and "engages in activities prohibited" by the treaty.

It suggests that a treaty member could call in support from U.S. air power or artillery using cluster munitions, so long as the caller does not "expressly request the use of cluster munitions."

The treaty also contains promises to mobilize international aid to cluster bomb-scarred lands such as southern Lebanon, where a 2006 war between the militant group Hezbollah and Israel left behind an estimated 1 million unexploded "bomblets."

The pact requires treaty members to aid explosives-clearance work and provide medical, training and other support to blast victims, their families and communities.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the treaty would not change U.S. policy and cluster munitions remain "absolutely critical and essential" to U.S. military operations.

He said U.S. officials in the State and Defense departments were studying whether the treaty would eventually oblige American bases in Europe to withdraw cluster munitions.

Goose said this decision would be up to individual U.S. allies. The treaty, he noted, requires nations that ratify it to eliminate all cluster weapons within their "jurisdiction or control."

He said most NATO members were likely to conclude that U.S. bases were operating under their jurisdiction and order U.S. cluster munitions to be removed or destroyed, while Germany and Japan were most likely to permit the weapons stocks to remain.

U.S. defense analysts said the treaty drafters do not appreciate the importance that the world's most powerful militaries place on cluster munitions. They doubted that the treaty would force any American retreat on the matter, noting that a majority of U.S. artillery shells use cluster technology.

"This is a treaty drafted largely by countries which do not fight wars," said John Pike, a defense analyst and director of

"Treaties like this make me want to barf. It's so irrelevant. Completely feel-good," he said.

Asked whether U.S. forces would ever ban or restrict cluster-bomb technology, Pike said, "It's not gonna happen. Our military is in the business of winning wars and using the most effective weapons to do so."

Ivan Oelrich, vice president for strategic security programs at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said he expected U.S. forces to keep using shells, rockets and bombs that break apart into smaller explosive objects because they have 10 times or more killing power than traditional munitions, particularly against troops in exposed terrain or in foxholes.

Government and military spokesmen in other cluster bomb-defending nations were similarly dismissive of the treaty.

"Russia will not ban cluster bombs and land mines," Lt. Gen. Yevgeny Buzhinsky said earlier this week in Moscow. "We stand for evolutionary development of these weapons. Russia's Defense Ministry objects to radical and prohibitive measures of this kind."

The treaty spells out future requirements for legal cluster weapons.

Each would have to contain no more than nine weapons inside, known formally as "submunitions." Each submunition must weigh at least 8.8 pounds, or four kilograms, have technology that allows it to identify a specific human or armored target, and contain electronic fail-safes to ensure that any duds cannot detonate later.

Patricia Lewis, director of the U.N. Institute for Disarmament Research, said the weight rule represented "a very neat and clever way of closing off a loophole."

"In the future, things weighing less than four kilograms could be designed that would give a large explosive impact, so the idea is to prevent future developments," Lewis told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.

But U.S. analysts derided the conditions as illogical.

Both Oelrich and Pike said it would be technically possible to design new cluster munitions that meet all of the treaty's criteria — but questioned why the treaty sought to limit the number of devices per shell, rocket or bomb.

Oelrich said the treaty's insistence on electronic fail-safes ignored the possibility of producing submunitions encased in metals that rapidly deteriorate when exposed to sun or moisture, depending on the theater of war.

"I don't see the point of the `nine' thing," Oelrich said. "What difference does it make how you package the submunition? What matters is the performance of the submunition on the ground. And nobody in any military wants duds."

Pike said if other countries insist on shells, rockets and bombs that contain no more than nine submunitions each, the military logic would be inescapable.

"It would just mean I'm going to have to shoot more of them!" he said with a laugh.