Friday, September 28, 2007

In Memory of Michael John Drazdoff

January 15, 1930 - September 28, 1997

Today, September 28, 2007 is the 10 year anniversary of my father's death. It is hard to believe that 10 years have gone by since he made his transition.

I wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on my dad and some of the many gifts he gave me.

My father was a kind and generous man. Everyone like him. He had a great sense of humor. His warm wit charmed everyone he met. He was a hard worker and he also loved to have a good time. He was a great friend and a wonderful father.

Dad holding me with my brothers L to R: Garth and Troy

Here is a bit of the obituary that we published when dad passed away.
Michael John Drazdoff, of Forest Grove, OR died September 28th, 1997. He was 67. Mr. Drazdoff was born, January 15th, 1930, in Buena Vista, Oregon, son of Mary and John Drazdoff. He grew up on the family farm in Buena Vista.

He married LaJuana (Pike) Gibson on Nov. 30th, 1963. They moved to Forest Grove shortly after their marriage. They were married for 34 years.

Mr. Drazdoff graduated from high school in 1948. He then worked for a saw mill in Independence and for the SP&S Railroad. He spent 2 years in the U.S. Army, and was stationed near Los Angeles, CA. He went on to work in a variety of cabinetry and construction related jobs and eventually became a building contractor. He managed many large scale apartment and custom home construction projects throughout Oregon. He was a co-owner of Equitable Builders and GEM Building Components, in Hillsboro, OR. He later spent several years working as a project manager for Universal Contracting Corporation, on projects in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Memphis, Tennessee. He retired, due to ill health, in 1980.

His interests included fishing, camping, hunting and gardening.

Dad in 1959

Dad taught me so many things. He taught me about the value of a hard day's work and accomplishing things by the sweat of your brow. We all worked around the house including doing special projects like going to the woods to get firewood for the winter. I carried and stacked a lot of firewood back then. It's still one of my favorite things to do.

He encouraged me to spend summers on his family's farm, which I did. I grew up working hard picking cherries (pie cherries, bing cherries and Rainiers), blackberries and a variety of other crops. We clipped and pinned back canes in the berry fields, and harvested fresh produce for our meals. It was a good life, but a lot of hard work. I came to appreciate where food comes from, and the efforts that go into being self sufficient.

He taught me never to give up on anything until I had done what I set out to do. That is one of the reasons I attended a small, private university. My dad gave me $500 towards my college education and I did the rest myself. I had scholarships, grants and loans, but I worked a number of jobs (administrative work, cleaning houses, painting houses, gardening, tutoring grade school kids, selling software) to put myself through school. In fact, I worked full time my last two years of college, doing computer support and desigining software for Weyerhaeuser Real Estate company, while taking a full load of classes. It was a very tough way to get through school, but that is the type of tenacity that I inherited from both my parents. It wasn't a question of whether I would do it or not. I simply knew that I would do what I had to do.

I spent many happy hours fishing and clamming with my dad. He allowed me to drink coffee with him on the weekends when I was a little girl. He'd fix it for me...mostly milk, sugar with a little splash of coffee in the cup. I felt so grown up. :)

He taught me to drink coffee while bouncing around in his 1969 Ford pickup truck. I still have excellent 'shock absorption' skills when it comes to holding beverages without spilling them while in moving vehicles!

I can still remember him saying, "Gimme your mit... kit" when he would take my hand as we crossed streets or parking lots.

I had some problems in school. I was a great student, but I was very sensitive emotionally. I struggled with being picked on, especially in Junior High School. My dad was known to come and sneak me out of school on occasion and take me fishing. Those were incredibly important days for me. He knew how to help me get myself back in balance: fresh air, nature, fishing and being with him.

I miss his booming laugh and the way he could tell a story. I miss getting funny little things in the mail. I have a shoe box full of the things he sent me when I was in college and beyond. When I was struggling financially in college and for the first few years afterwards, he would often send me a couple bucks or a 'five-er' in the mail so I could go and buy myself a diet coke. (I no longer drink it, but it used to be a daily ritual). We all miss his funny little 'gag' Christmas gifts. He had a knack for finding the funniest stuff.

Daddy really liked his little girl! That would be me. I'm afraid that in some ways, I was pretty spoiled. :) In other ways he expected me to toe the line and pull my own weight. I think he struck a pretty good balance at indulging me and requiring me to be a fully responsible person as I grew older.

He taught me to drive (which often involved him having to have an alcoholic beverage or two to remain calm!) I remember when he helped me purchase my first car. A 1975 orange (yikes) Datsun B210. It was a stick shift and I didn't know how to drive it. We went and bought the car for $2,200. (I had saved $1000 and he loaned me the rest. I paid him back all of the money until the last $100. He let me off the hook for that!) He took me to the Junior High School parking lot, gave me about 15 minutes worth of instructions and then told me to head out onto the highway to drive towards my uncle's farm!! I was mortified! That was his way (and the Drazdoff way, actually) of teaching you to do something. Show you once or twice, then throw you in the deep end. I'll never forget that drive! We had to stop in a little town so my dad could get himself a few beers! :) I'll never know how I got us out to the farm. There were many hills. I know I killed the engine several times, but, I made it! I didn't think I could, but he KNEW I would. That's how he taught me... so many things in life.

On May 10th of this year, my uncle Johnny (my dad's only brother) passed away. Interestingly enough, he passed away on the same day of the year (May 10th) as his father, my grandfather John Peter Drazdoff. When my uncle passed away, I started to think about what I could give to my cousins, Dan and Marilyn as they moved through the loss of their father. I didn't have a lot of photographs of their dad, but I did have something I thought they might really like. In the last year of my dad's life, I interviewed him on tape and got him to tell me about the fondest memories of his life. This included many stories about his escapades with his brother, Johnny. I have about 6 hours of him on tape! I had been too sad to listen to them when he first died. Then, as the years rolled along, I started to get scared that maybe the tapes wouldn't be any good. I avoided playing them, because I was dreading the heart break I would feel if the tapes weren't any good.

With the death of my uncle Johnny, I decided to pull out the tapes and see what I had. They were in PERFECT shape! I was able to get all the tapes onto my computer and I put them all onto CDs. I now have a 6 CD set of recordings of my dad! It is such a pleasure to hear his voice, and his laugh. Hearing him tell those stories is just like sitting with him at the dining room table drinking coffee and visiting. It is such a treasure! I've given copies to many of my family members. I think its very interesting that I finally completed this project almost exactly 10 years after his death. We are all really happy to be able to hear him telling stories again. I know I've missed that terribly.

So, to my father on this bitter-sweet anniversary, I say, "I love you Daddy! I miss you... and I thank you for everything you ever did for me, taught me and gave me. I am who I am today because I am your daughter. Give Uncle Johnny a big hug for me."
Nola Gay (or better yet... Gayser as he would call me.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Endless Snickers

Many years ago I had a roommate named Bill who loved miniature snickers bars. He always kept a bag of them in the hutch over his computer desk. This was during the good ole’ days when I worked in the software industry as a designer and shared a house with Bill and Craig, who were both software developers. All three of us had our computer desks in the dining room of the house we shared. We sat together in that room, for hours at a time, working on our computers like the geeks that we truly were. :)

One day, Craig, and I decided to play a joke on Bill. Bill always bought the bags of snickers, but frequently Craig and I would eat them. Bill didn’t mind – he had invited us to help ourselves. So all three of us ate Snickers, but Bill was the lone supplier.

For our prank, Craig and I decided that we would continually replenish the bag of Snickers so that the amount in the bag remained constant. That way, no matter how many bars Bill, Craig and I ate, the bag would never run out. We ate quite a few of these candy bars between the three of us, so I figured that Bill would catch on after a week or so and we’d all have a good laugh.

I purchased several bags of the candy bars and hid them in my room. Every time I’d become aware that we’d collectively eaten 5 or 6 bars, I’d sneakily replenish the bag. Several days went by. Bill didn’t seem to notice anything. One week went by. Still no awareness of what was happening. Bill watched us eat Snickers… he ate many too and still he didn’t seem to notice that something phenomenal was occurring!

This went on for two months!! We ate dozens and dozens and dozens of Snickers bars. (I looked a little different back then!) Bill never seemed to notice that the supply of Snickers was endless! I finally got tired of buying more bags (we probably went through about 6 bags of candy bars) and I told him what we’d been doing. He was stunned. This is an extremely intelligent guy…he wasn’t clueless! So, something deeper was at play in how long this went on.

What was most amazing to me was the ‘prosperity’ or ‘abundance’ consciousness that he displayed!! We all had as many candy bars as we wanted, and he didn’t seem surprised, at all, that there were always candy bars there when he reached for one. He wasn’t constantly checking to see if he needed to buy more. He freely shared what he had with his roomies. Two months of consuming candy bars, and never once did he think, “I’d better buy more Snickers because we’re going to run out.” I was pretty impressed by that belief… that what he wanted would just be there!

To this day, we all laugh about that experience. The lesson it taught me about manifesting abundance has always stuck with me: Set your expectations and believe that all things are possible!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Mir Centre for Peace

On September 21, 2007 (International Peace Day) I attended the grand opening of the Mir Centre for Peace. Mir is the Russian word for peace... and also 'the world.' Selkirk College is the proud home of this embodiment of a new type of educational program. They now have a "Peace Studies" program available through the college and the Mir Centre.

The vision for the Mir Centre is to bring together people for discussion, education and reflection on how to create 'cultures of peace' that will transform our world. Its a beautiful vision.

It is built on land that was inhabited by First Nations people and then the Doukhobors. The creators of the centre are attempting to blend important concepts for peace and reconciliation from these traditions as they create the centre.

The centre is housed in an old Doukhobor communal home. Each brick is from the original building. All the bricks were removed, cleaned and then reused in the renovated building. A beautiful metaphor of taking the old, crumbling pieces of the past and constructing something beautiful with them.

Here is a nice document put out by Selkirk College on the Mir Centre for Peace and how it came to be: Mir Centre for Peace History Document.

It is my hope that I will be involved with the Mir Centre as a presenter in the future to discuss some of my interest and efforts in the Middle East.

Good things are happening all over the world. We don't always hear about them. It is important to find and nurture these projects that aim to create a more peaceful, compassionate world.


Monday, September 24, 2007

The Doukhobors

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I have recently discovered that I am a Doukhobor. I wanted to give a little background on the Doukhobors and explain why I'm so excited about this revelation. Some of this comes from an out of print publication, "The Doukhobors in Canada," put out by the modern Doukhobor organization the USCC (Union of Spiritual Communities of Christ).

Doukhobor in Russian means "Spirit Wrestler." It was originally given to this Christian sect as a derogatory label, but they adopted it because in their view, they wrestle with and for the Spirit of God. By this they meant that in struggling for a better life they would use only the spiritual power of love, rather than any form of violence or coercion.

They rejected the Russian Orthodox Church's practice of worshipping ikons. "Why should we bow to a wooden ikon?" they asked. "Let us rather bow to each other, thus recognizing the Spirit of God which dwells in each of us."

The Doukhobors do not believe in allowing any intermediaries between each person and God. There is no clergy, and they refuse to defer to any authority, religious or civil in place of God. They seek to worship God and follow God's guidance directly, rather than following the laws of man.

They base their religious philosophy of the "Law of God" which consists of two commandments: 1) Recognize and love God - the spiritual force of goodness and creativity - with all thy heart, mind and soul. 2) Love thy neighbor as thyself.

The Doukhobors believe that Jesus, both in his teachings and his life, showed that the true meaning and purpose of life is to fulfil God's law. They believe that God's law is manifested through loving attitudes between people. The attainment of such attitudes, in the true sense, would mean the renunciation of all violence and war and the attainment of a life of peace and goodwill, a true, "heaven on earth."

The Doukhobors were always interested in a practical common sense religion which could help people live a contented, happy life on earth. Their history is marked by efforts to bring their beliefs into practice in everyday life.

The encyclopedia Britannica described the Doukhobors as "industrious and abstemious in their lives, and when living up to the standard of their faith, present one of the nearest approaches to the realization of the Christian ideal which has ever been attained."

The Doukhobor motto is "Toil and Peaceful Life." They have always been known as resourceful, self sufficient, hard working and above all peace loving.

The Doukhobors suffered a lot of persecution in Russia and were exiled to various areas of Russia. My grandfather's family, for example, ended up in the Kars region of Russia, which is located in present day Turkey. Suffering persecution for refusing to bear arms and fight in the Czar's army, the Doukhobors emigrated from Russia to Canada. The famous author Leo Tolstoy actually helped to finance the migration of the Doukobors to Canada.

In Canada, the Doukhobors worked hard, but experienced more hardships. They refused to hold individual title to their lands (they lived communally) and refused to swear allegiance to the crown. As a result, they were stripped of their original homestead land in central and eastern Canada (it was sold to other Canadians) and were forced to relocate to British Columbia and start over. This is where I just visited my family this weekend.

Persecution, discrimination and difficulty followed the Doukhobors to BC. The struggles over the methods of land ownership, the issue of taxation and the education of their children continued. At one point the government of Canada literally kidnapped the Doukhobor children and put them in government schools to try to educate them to be more compliant.

A group split off from the Doukhobors into what is called 'the Sons of Freedom." They were known for their violent uprising (bombings), setting fires and protesting in the nude. The methods they used were completely against the Doukhobor teachings and beliefs. Unfortunately the actions of these few were attributed to all the Doukhobors. To this day they are taunted and labeled as 'barn burners' and other negative names. The mainstream Doukhobors do not support or condone any of these actions.

Orthodox Doukhobors are vegetarian, since they do not believe in killing of any kind. They also do not smoke or drink alcohol.

It is quite a beautiful tradition. I am completely astounded at how many of the teachings resonate with and reflect my own personal beliefs. I find it amazing that I was never consciously exposed to these beliefs, and yet I have come to many of them while following my own, unique path.

"The welfare of the whole world is not worth the life of one child" is a Doukhobor slogan with passionate meaning in every Doukhobor's heart. And, changing times, not withstanding, Doukhobors everywhere are continuing to strive - along with like-minded people all over the world - for a world where killing and war would be unknown and we would all be one loving human family, a "Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God."

I just love that this tradition has at its heart, the belief that what matters most in this world is how we treat each other, and that we can create a world where violence is not the way to resolve our differences and problems.

The more I learn, the more excited I feel. There is so much depth and wisdom in the Doukhobor tradition. The world would be better off if everyone embraced a little of their ideology. I'm proud to be a descendent of this spiritual belief system.

For more information, Wikipedia has a nice write up:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Long Lost Drazdoffs

This has been a pretty profound weekend for me. I've been up in the Castlegar area of British Columbia. I had two purposes for this trip. One was to attend the opening ceremonies for the Mir Centre for Peace. The other was to connect with some Drazdoff relatives of mine that I've never met.

I was not prepared for all that happened to me. I feel like I've stumbled upon a treasure chest that has been mine all along, but I never knew was there for me! I've found a spiritual heritage that I'm a part of as a Doukhobor - the "Spirit Wrestlers" who were persecuted in Russia for their religious beliefs, exiled to various areas of Russia, and later emigrated from Russia to Canada. My Russian family left Russia with the Doukhobors around the turn of the century and settled in Thrums, BC which is a few miles from Castlegar. The treasure I've found in my Doukhobor heritage will be the subject of another entry. It is a really exciting discovery for me.

The relatives I have up here are the descendants of my grandfather's brother, Paul Drazdoff. My grandfather, John, his parents and his other siblings left Canada to go to the US. The two sections of the family have not been connected in a long time. Until this weekend.

I have to back up to tell you the amazing story of how this reunion came to be. I found one of my second cousin's emails on line about 6 months ago. She and I corresponded for a while and my intention was to follow up with her and eventually meet.

I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico in June to attend a professional speaker's training workshop. There were 7 participants in this workshop. One of the other participants was from Canada. It turned out that he was a Dean of Selkirk College in Castlegar and Nelson BC. I had no idea where Thrums was located, or where Nelson or Castlegar were located in BC. I asked Angus, my new friend, if he knew where Thrums was. I was stunned when he answered that it was only a short distance from Castlegar and Nelson.

Angus invited me to attend the opening of the Mir Centre for Peace (which I will write more about in another entry). I decided to go up for the opening and to hopefully connect with this second cousin that I had found.

I emailed Nina (my second cousin who I had been emailing with a few months before). She doesn't live in Thrums anymore, but gave me her brother's phone number. Turns out her two brothers, Peter and Ron both still live on the original homestead on the Kootenay River.

I looked Peter and Ron up on the internet and discovered that the one and only entry there containing their names, was a document about the Mir Centre for Peace! Turns out they did all the electrical work in the renovation of the building that houses the Mir Centre! Ron did most of the actual labor! I couldn't believe that they were connected to the center in some way!

I called Peter about a week before I drove up to BC. He seemed interested in meeting me.

I had such a magical weekend with these two. I met them the day of the opening at the Mir Centre hours before the ceremony. As I approached the building I saw a man standing alone and he looked somehow familiar to me. I asked if he was Peter... turns out it was Ron. And so it began. Soon Peter showed up and the three of us started chatting and catching up. I was able to get a private tour of the house before the crowds descended on it later in the day. I had thought I might get to meet Peter for an hour or so... and that might be it for this first, ice breaking visit.

I ended up getting to spend the entire day with both of these guys. It was awesome. We went out for lunch together and reconstructed our family tree. We talked about the history... and the relatives that they remembered meeting. Our comfort level with each other grew stronger by the second.

Peter was able to get us tickets to a traditional Doukhobor dinner at the Brilliant Cultural Center that evening. It was wonderful. I got to experience some very familiar flavors from my youth. :)

We spent time sitting at their place on the river, with a fire going in the fire pit, reminiscing. We visited the Doukhobor museum, and I found all kinds of books and historical documents to help me research our family. I purchased Doukhobor cookbooks and music. It was fantastic.

We ate another meal at Weezie's Borsch Hut.... which was awesome!

My cousins spoiled me. Once they discovered my love of iced tea, they got me some on a couple of occasions. :) They made sure I was warm by the fire by bringing me extra coats and blankets because the night was chilly. I felt very cared for and very welcome.

We all learned a lot about our family history, and were especially excited this morning when I discovered something about our family (we're pretty sure) in one of the historical records I purchased yesterday. The record I purchased is a list of Doukhobor passenger lists from ships that came to Canada. The interesting thing is that the names are somewhat different from the names we know our family by. The ages match, however. We think we found the actual ship our immediate family came over on and the exact date that they sailed from Germany and arrived in Canada. How cool is that! It showed a family with Petro (Peter, the father, who would be our great grandfather), Avdotia (we knew our great grandmother as Dorothy), Pavel (this would be Paul... Ron and Peter's grandpa), Ivan (this would be John... my grandfather) and Agrippina (we think this would be our great aunt Grace). This is really really exciting stuff.

The three of us couldn't get over how wonderful it was to find each other and reunite the two parts of our family after 25 - 30 years of being out of communication. We all realized how important family is!

I guess the message I take away from all of this is that we so often have treasures in heritage that we are unaware of. I can't believe that I didn't find these people... or my Doukhobor heritage until I was 43 years old. That's pretty fantastic! It's never too late to discover aspects of ourselves and our past and use that new found information to enrich our future!

Got any long lost relatives or aspects of your heritage lurking in your closet? Ever thought about doing some genealogy research? You might consider it. You never know just what you'll find!! :)

L to R: Peter Drazdoff, me, Ron Drazdoff in front of
the Mir Centre for Peace which resides in a restored
Doukhobor home

L to R: Peter Drazdoff, me, Ron Drazdoff in front of
the Mir Centre for Peace

L to R: Ron Drazdoff, me, Peter Drazdoff

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Working the Casino

I thought I'd follow up yesterday's casino story with another experience I had in a casino in Reno a little over a year ago. This involves an encounter I had with a musician who was performing at one of my favorite video poker bars. (I told you I like to gamble!!!)

One evening, I was sitting at a video poker bar, happily playing my quarter machine. There was a great musician who was playing on the stage in front of me. It's a great deal. You can sit and play at the bar, listen to great music and enjoy free beverages. This particular musician was really great. He was playing a mix of classic rock and country rock. I was really enjoying his music.

The bar was pretty full. Most of the video poker machines were full, including the machine next to me, which was occupied by my gambling buddy. I was having such a good time. It was really my 'play time' or so I thought.

The musician announced that he was going to play a 'patriotic song.' I instinctively got a little uncomfortable. Call it instinct. The musician starts to sing a horrible song about getting on an airplane and seeing some Arabs on board. He proceeded to sing (in a 'humorous' fashion) about these Arabs, how uncomfortable they made him and what he was going to do about it, which trust me... wasn't nice. It was full of racist, inaccurate stereotypes and nationalistic, fear mongering drivel.

There I sat. Aghast. I had really been enjoying this guy's music. Now, he was being offensive and racist. Most of the people at the bar seemed to be OK (at the very least) with his song. Suddenly, I knew it was probably time for me to 'go to work,' and I have to admit it isn't always a pleasant realization when I figure this out. :)

I took a personal 'creed' a number of years ago after hearing Maya Angelou speak about the damage we do when we listen to other people make demeaning comments about another person or group of people. Our silence 'validates' what they are saying. What she said was so compelling to me, that I took a personal oath at that moment that I would never sit silent while another person was saying something destructive about 1) another person 2)another group of people or 3) themselves. I MUST at the very least, let them know I disagree. I cannot validate self destructive or racist comments to be made in my presence. I simply cannot do it.

This has gotten me into a number of... shall we say, interesting situations. This night in the bar was certainly one of them.

Here was this musician, slandering Arabs. I have many Arab friends and each of their faces came into my mind and heart at that moment. How would they feel if they were sitting next to me? This is always what happens to me when someone says something racist or against another person's religion. I have friends all over the world, so almost always, a person's face pops into my mind who is being slurred in that moment. It makes it very personal for me. I feel very protective of my wonderful friends all over the world.

In this case in the casino, I knew it was not just me I was putting in potential jeopardy by taking action. My gambling buddy was with me and I knew that if it got 'ugly' with the musician or other guests, that he would feel honor bound to protect me. So, I was also considering putting him in harms way with whatever I was about to do to live up to my 'oath' and 'creed.'

I simply had no choice. I had to express my disagreement and disappointment. One important aspect of this creed is that I try not to embarrass or humiliate anyone as I do it. This is a very very important aspect of what I do. If I embarrass or humiliate them, they are likely to write me (and what I say) off as being the rantings of a.... not so nice person. I try to do it in ways that are respectful and private, when possible.

I chose to look away from the singer (and focus on my poker machine), shook my head in disappointment, and took the perma-smile that he had seen all evening long, off of my face. He definitely got the message. I was pretty obvious, but not too many people noticed, except for the bartender (who I know pretty well) and my buddy sitting next to me.

When the musician finished the song, he walked to the stage right in front of me and off mic said, "I can see you aren't happy with my song. Would you be willing to tell me why?" I told him that the song was racist and stereotypical in a very inaccurate and inappropriate fashion towards Arabs. He looked shocked and said, "No... it's not racist.... its supposed to be funny!" So, we had a little talk about why it was racist, and how my Arab friends would feel if they were with me. He was still being a little defensive and he said to the bar tender, who happened to be Hispanic, "So... is it OK with you if I sing a song that makes fun of Hispanics?" The bartender smiled and said it was OK. I said, "How about you go back to singing the great music you were singing... and not make fun of anyone? Would that be OK?" He apologized to me several times, said that he truly did not want to offend me (or anyone else) and said he hoped that I would stay and continue listening to him. I did stay. At his next break he came and sat down with me and asked if we could talk further about it. We did. I answered all his questions about my objections to the song, and how language can be a very destructive, divisive weapon in our world. At the end of our talk, he thanked me and said, "You know... I've had bad reactions to that song before, but I never understood why. No one has ever explained it to me before. I thank you for that. I understand now."

I don't think he'll ever sing that song again. I hope not, anyway.

As I debriefed with my gambling buddy, I apologized for potentially putting him in a bad situation if that had gone down differently. He said he was really proud of me! That was nice to hear.

These things are never easy for me, but they are simply something I feel compelled to do. I simply can't observe that sort of behavior without at least expressing a different opinion. It's something I hope I have the strength to do every day of my life.

My main lesson in this is that no matter where we go or what we are doing... we can be a voice for a different way of living this life. One that is respectful of all peoples... whoever they are.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Casino Angel

When you are in group situations, it is not uncommon for the facilitator to ask you to introduce yourself to the group. Often this is accomplished by giving you a list of questions to answer, like: What is your name? Where are you from? What do you do for a living? Questions like that. One that I've heard added to the mix a number of times is "Tell us something that most people don't know about you, or would be surprised by if they knew."

I have a couple answers to that question, but my favorite one is that I LOVE to gamble. It's true. I think it runs in my family. My father, his brother, his sister and my grandparents all loved to gamble and made regular trips to Reno. I think it is inherited! :) I was lucky enough to 'come of age' and be able to go to Reno with my dad a number of times. I took him for father's day every year until his health became to poor to continue to make the trek. After that, I went on my own, but would call him to tell him about my exploits. It was a way that he and I bonded. I still really enjoy gambling, although it always makes me miss my dad a bit.

Most people who know me do know this about me, but when I get to know new people, they always seem very surprised when I reveal this hobby. I think its because I take life pretty seriously, always want to be doing something to make the world a better place and I'm kind of obsessed with productivity and efficiency. My days are pretty busy and I accomplish a lot each and every day. I've always had a bit of trouble just 'playing.' Gambling is one area where I seem to be able to really enjoy myself and relax. I guess that's why I like to indulge my desire from time to time.

Video poker is my main passion, but I also like keno and certain types of slot machines - especially the old fashioned, non-computerized ones. I like to use coins whenever possible - and really resent the new 'ticket' systems that most casinos are going to. I dread the day when Reno goes all coin-less. It might mean the end of my gambling days!!

Tonight, I'm in Spokane, en route to the opening of the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College in Castlegar, BC.

I paid a visit to the local casino and had a great time playing Video Poker for 2 hours. I ended up by a bit, which is always nice.

The interesting part of this story, however, was not what I was playing, or how I did. It has to do with the acquaintance I made while sitting there.

I had only been playing for about 5 minutes when this older woman (late 60's) came up and sat down at the video poker machine down the row from me. Instantly, she started talking to me, asked me my name, told me hers (Maggie) and seemed very interested in talking with me. This happens to me a LOT. Especially when I'm trying to have some alone time, or enjoy an activity that I rarely indulge in!! I was polite and answered her questions. She asked me if I knew what time it was. I had to take out my cell phone to answer her because I no longer wear a watch. She asked if she could move to the machine next to me. She wasn't gambling. She just wanted to talk to me. Now, I do need to say that I generally don't like to talk when I gamble. Not in depth anyway. I like to focus on what I'm doing... and really enjoy it.

She was relentless in wanting to talk to me. Then she asked if she could use my phone to call her son. She wanted him to come and pick her up and take her home. I let her borrow the phone and she made the call. Her son was not home. This routine was to continue for the entire 2 hours I played this poker machine.

Turns out she was a nurse for almost 40 years. She started her career as a military nurse in Vietnam. She had a really interesting life story. Within a very short time she launched into a deep spiritual conversation. I swear I didn't prompt her AT ALL. You can ask anyone who knows me. This happens to me a lot. When I'm alone, complete strangers will just approach me and start to tell me their life stories. Either that, or they will ask me questions like, "Why does God allow war?" I'm not kidding. I've stopped being amazed. I have come to believe that it is part of my 'job description.'

Maggie proceeded to tell me all about her beliefs (which were quite similar to my own), and told me that there are angels all around us all the time. She told me that in her 20's she had a near death experience (the way she put it is that she died and came back) and told me about what she learned while she was 'away.' She learned that religion doesn't matter at all, in terms of what religion you are. She said it was completely clear to her that our creator looks at our heart to determine how much we loved and were loved in this life. That's all that mattered. That makes perfect sense to me.

It was actually pretty interesting to listen to her talk. Even though I was really looking forward to some hard core poker playing, she seemed to really need to talk to someone and just share some of what she's learned in her life. She has COPD (Chronic, Obstructive, Pulmonary Disease), which is what my father died from. In fact, an interesting connection is that the 10 year anniversary of my father's death is coming up on September 28th. I wonder if he had something to do with this woman coming and talking with me for that 2 hours. :)

As I was getting ready to go, I was getting concerned about her. She had tried to call her son 4 times and had not reached him. I really wanted to get going, but I was hesitant to leave her sitting there. I told her that we could call her son one more time, but then I was going to need to leave. She was fine with that. Luckily (ha!) she reached him that time and he was on his way to pick her up. She hugged me about 5 times and told me how happy she was to have found me in the casino. I felt pretty lucky to have found her too.

I have to admit, it was an interesting experience. I know better than to question the people who come across my path. I do believe that I meet the people I'm supposed to meet. I don't believe in accidents. Something about this encounter felt very special to me. So, although I didn't have the solitary poker fest that I was hoping for... I think it was the evening I was meant to have. Who knows, she may have been an angel or she may have been a messenger from my dad! I did hit my first straight flush ever!!! That was quite a thrill and worth 250 quarters!

As Maggie told me, "Remember... the angels are everywhere and even when you think things aren't going to work out for you... they always work out like they are supposed to."


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Ups and Downs on the Path

I think I've already mentioned that I'm not a naturally athletic person. If left to my own devices and inner drives, I'd much rather curl up with a good book, a good movie or my computer than head out to do anything physical. It's just my nature.

Through the years of my life, however, I've worked hard to get into better shape physically and to embrace more exercise and activity into my regular routine. I do a bit of yoga, weight training and cardio on a regular basis. As for outdoor activities, the only things I've ever really embraced are skiing and hiking. I especially love hiking and being out in the woods.

Last year was my best hiking year ever! I hiked about a dozen times during the spring and summer. For me, that was a lot of hiking.

One day, hiking up a favorite trail of mine, I had a pretty important realization. I was hiking along the trail, steadily climbing up, up and up. Suddenly, the trail started to descend into a little valley. I felt myself sigh and my motivation level slumped a bit. True, it was a stretch of 'downhill' and easy hiking. I knew, however, that I was going to have to regain that ground to eventually get to my goal at the summit. I always had the same reaction when I would reach that spot (and a few other descents on the trail), but I had never thought much about it.

I realized in that moment that I felt like I was 'wasting' effort and energy by having to go down, only to have to go back up again. Part of this, I'm sure, is because of my personality. I'm very goal oriented and I like to know where I'm going and get there as efficiently as possible. I also don't naturally gravitate to things that cause me to exert myself, so I'm sure that's part of it as well.

At any rate, I started reflecting on the fact that I would rather just climb straight up to the summit and have all the hard work over with, so I can just enjoy the 'easy' walk back down the mountain. It suddenly hit me that I also have this attitude a lot in life, and that it really makes it frustrating for me when I experience set backs and detours.

Yet, this is the nature of mountains... and of life. On a mountain, when you are going up, you will inevitably come to valleys that must be crossed in order to reach your goal. You are still on the path, you are still covering valuable territory, but for a time, it can seem like you are going the wrong way. It's true in life as well. We often find ourselves needing to go around obstacles, or on detours to get where we are going. They key is to recognize that its all part of the journey and it all has value.

On my hike, it's all exercise! It's all good for my body. The changing terrain is a challenge for my muscles. Variety is good... and healthy. I still, eventually, get to the top, and I've enjoyed a lot of beautiful scenery, tantalizing scents and encounters with critters and sometimes other hikers along the way.

It's the same in life. Sometimes the detours and the back tracking we need to do give us some of our most valuable and wonderful life experiences. We often learn more from our detours and struggles than we do from things that go smoothly and directly the way we want them to go.

Recognizing this aspect of my character and my perspective allowed me to challenge it and work on embracing my path in a different way. Now when I reach the 'downs' on my hiking trails, I smile to myself and enjoy the process of going down to go up. I think about how metaphorical it is for the attitude that I want to cultivate towards life. Every step has value! It's a matter of recognizing that every step I take is a part of the journey. The journey and its quality are what I want to focus on these days, even more than on getting to the mythical 'there' that we all are always pushing for.

Next time you find yourself going 'down' - just remember that going down is often a valid part of going up. It could be the most important part of your journey. Only time will tell, but our job is to fully give ourselves to the step we are currently taking and to keep moving with our goal always in our mind.

Happy Trails!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Letting Go With Grace

I was given a great gift in my life, starting as a very young girl. Our family's next door neighbor, Lucy, was already retired when I was about 5 years old. I was fortunate in that she seemed to really like me right off, and she always treated me like an actual person. Not all adults can do that with children, but Lucy really treated me with respect and equality. She was like another grandmother to me. From my earliest memories I can draw images of my nightly visits with her after dinner. My love affair with tea was born in her living room. Every night I would go over to Lucy's for "a spot of tea." We'd have tea and some sort of great cookies... ginger snaps or 'mystic mints' which were dipped in chocolate. I can smell and taste them as I type this!

I was an emotionally sensitive and often troubled child. My evenings with Lucy were a critically important, balancing, confidence boosting element in my early years. We talked about everything. She had a dollhouse full of miniature furnishings and even real lights that turned on and off. Another obsession was born in me for all things miniature!

She taught me to make little bookmark mice by sewing tear dropped shaped pieces of felt together and using cotton for stuffing. We used a hair ribbon for a tail and waxed thread for whiskers. My little mice became my equivalent to the barbie dolls that other girls played with! I was always a little... different. :) Those little mice were a huge part of my childhood. I created houses for them using a potato chip box and my dad's carpenter's pencils. Later, my very talented dad built me a wooden 'mouse house' with a footprint that was almost as large as a twin sized bed! He made one for my best friend as well, and we had such a great time creating our own unique floor plans, painting each room a different color, using carpet and linoleum scraps to decorate and coming up with ideas for how to build furniture out of scraps of wood, bottle caps, nails and basically anything else that our imaginations could create. It all started with Lucy.

I could write a book on all that I learned from Lucy. She was a strong, independent woman who had been married a couple times, basically raised her daughters on her own, never took 'guff' from anyone and lived exactly as she wanted to. I owe a lot of my current personality to the exposure that I had in early life to such an amazing and inspiring role model.

Lucy has always loved life and never let a little trouble get her down. She's been through a lot in her life, yet I've never known anyone with a more consistently optimistic attitude. She rolls with the punches and just keeps on truckin!

I had the great honor and privilege to attend her 100th birthday party in California a couple years ago. Lucy is still going strong! She still has her amazing, infectious laugh, and although she has a little trouble seeing and hearing these days, her attitude about life is as upbeat as it always was.

What impressed me most about seeing Lucy at age 100, was the way that she has let go of things that her aging body has required her to release. She had to stop driving a few years ago, which was a huge hit to her independence and freedom. Lucy was always going! She explained to me that it just became unsafe for her to drive and she willingly surrendered her car to her daughters. She didn't want to hurt anyone else or herself. "It was time," she told me. She moved into a retirement community a while back, and kept after her family until she was in the place that suited her. She walks 'laps' around the retirement home every day - 3 times in the morning and 3 times in the afternoon. She still loves to read and she still takes her showers at night (which is something she believes has helped her maintain her health all these years.)

Her walks are yet another area where Lucy is a perfect role model for us all in how to gracefully make changes and let things go as we need to. For a long time, she walked outside around the grounds to accomplish her walking goals. Then, she said, "As I was walking around on the sidewalk outside, I realized how much that would hurt if I fell down on the cement, so I decided it was time to take it inside." With that, she moved her 'lap walking' routine indoors to the carpeted hallways.

Her kids bought her a walker and for a long time it sat in the corner. "I wasn't ready yet and I didn't need it. I promised them I would use it when I needed it." That day came and she decided it was time for her to rely on that little bit of extra support and security, and she started using the walker.

She explained to me that once she started using the walker, she realized how many people in the home were using theirs incorrectly! They were all hunched over doing terrible things to their posture. So, Lucy decided to make it her personal mission to teach everyone in her retirement home how to walk properly (completely upright) with their walkers and save their spines. At 100, she was cruising around giving 'walker lessons' to all the folks in the home, many of them 20 or 30 years her junior!

Needless to say, Lucy is the treasure of her community. Everyone loves her. Everyone respects her. No one 'messes with her.' No one ever did!

As each passing year has brought new aches, pains and limitations to this amazing woman, she has simply let go of what she needed to with grace and dignity and has continued to look for what she can do - each and every day - to make her life meaningful and to contribute to the quality of life for those around her.

I will consider myself lucky to be half as enthusiastic and productive at her age (if I even make it that long)! Come to think of it... Lucy would say there is no luck involved. It is a choice that only I can make and act on. It's true for all of us.

This living legacy is a great example of what we all can do in this world, if we learn to let go of what's time has passed... and embrace what is - as enthusiastically and optimistically as we possibly can.

Some 40 years later... and Lucy is still helping me live a happier and more meaningful life. I will be forever greatful for her presence in my life.

Thanks for all the lessons Lucy!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Skunk People

What would your reaction be if you came face to face with a skunk? Yes, I'm talking about the little fuzzy black creatures with the big white stripe down their back. Remember Peppie Le Pew? Cute as can be but... wheweee...can they ever pack a putrid punch! Would you be afraid? Would you be terrified of being sprayed? Would you think that ending up stinky was inevitable given everything you know about the nature of skunks?

All of us probably have the idea that no encounter with a skunk could ever turn out well. That is, of course, unless they had been 'de-stink-ified.' Yes, I invented that word. :) If their ability to spray us and smell up the joint were removed, they might be OK.... right? If they are unaltered, however, most people would probably do almost anything to avoid coming in to close proximity to one of these little guys.

Our assumptions about skunks might be valid or they might be wrong. Most of us have never, and will never, be close enough to one to test our beliefs. I, however, have witnessed first hand that when it comes to skunks, things aren't always what they seem!

My uncle lives out on a beautiful piece of property in the hills. He adores all kinds of critters, large and small. All are welcome around his place... including, you guessed it, the skunks. In fact, there is a family of skunks that have lived for several generations under his front porch. They are welcome to share in the bounty of the household (in their case its cat food). Everyone involved seems to share willingly. No one claims absolute territory or privilege.

The skunks avail themselves of the often open front door and come through the house at will. My mother has come face to face with them many times. They just look at her without care. (Although she did have one minor incident with a baby skunk once... a skunk who hadn't learned the ropes yet! The poor little guy didn't even spray her directly, he just let loose on the edge of the kitchen island, and it really wasn't the catastrophe that an adult would have caused.) That minor unpleasant incident aside, the skunks know that they are welcome there and they have an unspoken (obviously) agreement with the landlord.

They all like and respect each other. Everyone gets along fine. My uncle talks to the skunks. My mom talks to the skunks. That poor little baby just didn't know the language yet. :) Mom's interactions have been 99% positive! My brother and my neice have also had positive close encounters with the skunks. I have never actually seen the skunks personally (except in photographs), but I long too. There is just something very profound to me about the fact that these skunks get along just hunky dory with humans, cats and all the other critters that call the place home. How does that work? Why isn't somebody getting sprayed when they 'startle' one of these skunks? It must happen that the skunks are caught off guard at times. In the world of skunks, as portrayed in human tales, haven't we all been conditioned to believe the skunks really like to spray (kind of flexing their skunky muscles) and do it at the slightest provocation?

I think we may have been sold a bill of goods! Maybe skunks have gotten a bad rap? Perhaps we have stereotypes about skunks that are simply not true. Or, perhaps the beliefs about skunks only seem to be true when we keep them at arms length and/or rely on cliches and other people's bad experiences to create our 'skunk reality.'

How often do we do this in life? How often do we believe things about another person, or another group of people, just because someone says it or we saw it on TV? Our ideas and opinions are shaped by our own experiences, and in the absence of direct experience, we rely on what others communicate about their experiences to shape our views. Sometimes this can be a dangerous endeavor. We can make totally incorrect generalizations and assumptions about entire ethnic groups, religious groups or nations, without ever having a single personal experience upon which to test our new perspective. I urge caution when doing so. If you haven't seen it yourself... up close... be very careful about blindly accepting another person's reality as the gospel truth!

Who would think that you could have a whole group of skunks hanging out in your kitchen on a daily basis without an unpleasant incident. Kinda busts a paradigm bubble containing what we normally think about skunks, doesn't it?

I think we could all take a lesson from my uncle's experience with the skunks who call his place home. Never assume the worst of someone, or of a group of people based on what others says is true, particularly if it is negative and uncharitable. The world gets itself into all kinds of trouble by assuming absolute knowledge about what a particular type of person, or group of people will do or how they will behave. This is the origin of racism, sexism, ageism, and a variety of other societal and planetary ills. Entire groups of people, and sometimes nations, are villianized because of this type of stereotyping, generalization and totally unsupported representations of who they are. When we villianize a group of people, it becomes so easy to treat them badly, without respect or dignity and feel justified. What a slippery and dangerous slope that is.

Think for yourself. Learn about things for yourself. Test out your beliefs before you cement them in your paradigm. Take the risk that the skunk might just be an amazing and lovely addition to your life and far different than the evil stinker you have been taught to loathe and fear. You just never know.

I am one of 'the skunk people,' as my uncle would say, and I'm darn proud to say so!

Time for a quick snack in the kitchen

Friday, September 14, 2007

Surf's Up!

Recently, I found myself in a most unexpected situation. I was in a wetsuit, in the Pacific Ocean, waves crashing around me, attempting to get on a surf board! A SURF BOARD! I never, in my entire life, thought that I would be trying to learn to surf! Especially at age 43. In my opinion, surfing is for young, agile kids and it requires many things I do not posses: athletic ability, a healthy, uninjured body and physical coordination.

Through a series of events, I found myself carrying a giant surf board down to Indian Beach near Cannon Beach Oregon. I was scared. I have a strange and not completely understood problem with my low back. I was really afraid that I might cause myself great harm by attempting this activity. I've always admired surfers. I mean... they are cool! I never dreamed I would be one of them!

As the instructor gave me the basics in ocean safety and scared me about the rip tides, I resigned myself to the fact that I was really going to be hauling this giant board into the ocean and attempting to stand up on it. Utterly amazing!

I received the basic instructions for how to get up on the board, along with some modifications that might help me deal with my low back and hip challenges.

We headed out into the ocean (pretty small waves, but still... the OCEAN!) The instructor helped me get on the board (lying on my belly) and gave me the cue to paddle at the exact right moment. I paddled like the dickens, and then went through my little 'procedure' to stand up. I actually got up on my very first wave!!! No one was more astonished than I was! It was thrilling and extremely fun!

I proceeded to get up on several waves in a row. With each successful 'ride' I built confidence and experienced a deeper and deeper sense of satisfaction. I was surfing!

After about 6 rides of varying length, I went in to a little 'slump' and I couldn't seem to get up. I was tired and thought for awhile that my fatigue was the reason for my slump. On yet another ill-fated attempt, I had a revelation. One of the instructions from my surfing instructor was this: "When you are on a surfboard, wherever you are looking is where you will go." This was a very important teaching. She used it with regards to changing directions proactively. She also said that if I became aware of another surfer in my path, that the tendency would be to stare at them. She admonished me to resist this urge and look away from the surfer. "Look where you want to go, not where you don't want to go!" She warned that if I stared at the other surfer I would run right in to them without fail. It was an interesting concept that I had heard her say and remembered for awhile, but then seemed to forget.

As I went down on that particular unsuccessful attempt, I realized that at the critical moment when I was about to stand up, I looked down at the surfboard and instantly crashed and fell off the board! Instantly. Ah-Ha! I realized that I was consistently looking at the board, my feet and the water and indeed that is where I was ending up!

My very next attempt (and the next many after that) were all successful to varying degrees and I was actually astonished at how much of a difference it made to trust that my feet would go onto the right place on the board, and look up towards the shore, straight ahead. It made it so much easier to stand up and ride successfully! It was an awesome moment of realization and clarity!

Of course, this idea, "Where you look is where you will go" is true in life as it is in surfing. What we place our attention on is what we are most likely to manifest or attract. If we set and focus on a goal, we are quite likely to achieve it. If we focus on the obstacles and difficulties in our path, we are likely to go nowhere. It was a profound lesson that I received from my surfing instructor that day and a good reminder to stay focused on that principle in my life in general. It is always inspiring and motivating when we get the chance to experience a concrete demonstration of an important spiritual or theoretical principle. I got a very down to earth example of how 'where we look' and 'what we put our attention on' is critically important to where we will end up as well as to the quality of the journey itself. Will we crash and burn? Or will we look to the horizon and ride the wave of adventure and fulfilment? I vote for riding the wave and tasting the exhilaration of letting the wave carry us to the place of our dreams and aspirations.

Surf on!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Epidemic of Denial

As I sat watching the news tonight I was utterly amazed at the speech that George W. Bush gave on the 'progress' in Iraq. It is simply astounding to me that, as one reporter put it, George Bush can "describe an Iraq that exists only in his mind." The denial of reality is rampant in this administration, but alas, they are not alone. The denial of reality is present all around us in our lives in a thousand different ways. Waking up to reality and 'what is,' I believe, is an essential step on the path of spiritual awakening and self actualization. It is also the hope for our world.

One cannot awaken if they are asleep, or if their head is in the sand! It's true of a President, an administration and a nation's population in regards to the state of the war and the state of the world. It's true of all of us with regards to the state of the environment and the assault that our modern ways of living have on our planet. These are major (and overwhelming) issues, but there are many more personal ways that the human tendency to deny difficult reality shows up in our daily lives.

Addictions are the classic example of how humans can deny their reality. Those addicted to drugs or alcohol who do not realize or admit that they have a problem are the classic example of denial. This is also true of people with 'process' addictions (addictions to behavior like shopping, gambling, relationships, etc.) as well.

We all have experiences of not seeing things that are going on right in front of us, simply because we cannot or do not want to face or deal with them. Examples might be ignoring the effects of smoking or overeating on our health or enduring bad behavior of someone close to us as we rationalize, justify or continually enable it.

We all do it, every day in a variety of ways, from the subtle to the obvious. This is probably one of the most dangerous patterns at work in our world today. Denying reality is what lead to the Holocaust. Denying reality is what allows us all, at the individual and collective level to allow despicable acts against humanity and nature to continue to be perpetrated each and every day.

I once wrote an article about some barricades that were erected in a Jewish Settlement in Israel to shield the neighborhood from gunfire from a neighboring Arab village. The settlement was also guarded by tanks. What struck me most, however, was that the wall of cement was painted on the settlement side with a soothing bucolic scene of rolling green hills dotted with sheep. It was surreal to me. Just on the other side of the wall and the valley beyond was 'the threat.' Instead of facing what was there and finding a way to deal with what was there, the solution was a wall. On that wall was painted what the settlement residents 'wished' was there.... meadows, sheep... no Arabs. It was a perfect example of just pretending something wasn't there, letting the military 'deal' with the 'other side' and going about life as though all was well. Guess what? That doesn't solve any problem... ever. Sticking your head in the sand never solves problems. They just grow and fester while you suck up sand!

I encourage us all to look at everything in our life straight on. Even those things that are scary or difficult. We have to cultivate our vision to see 'what is' and not what we 'wish were so.' Awareness is the first step to solving any problem. Awareness is the antidote to denial.

The lack of awareness that we have in our own lives, and our willingness to stick our heads in the sand over our personal issues, makes us susceptible to that thinking in other people, especially authority figures. That's how things like the Iraq war can be packaged and 'sold' and be allowed to continue on... and on... and on. We dig the hole deeper and deeper every day. That's the cost of denial.

What the world needs now is awareness! We can all do our part in our own lives! Turn and face something you've been avoiding... today!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reflections on 9/11

I was amazed that most of the day went by today without me even realizing that it was September 11th. It was tonight, when I turned on the TV and was assaulted with replays of the horrifying images of that day 6 years ago... that I remembered.

A couple years ago, on the anniversary of the attacks, I remembered dreading the inevitable replay of the images over and over and over again. As I turned on the TV I flipped through the channels, looking for something that didn't do what everyone else was doing: using the sensational images to captivate people's attention, all the while creating retraumatization, increased fear and fanning the feelings of hate and the thirst for justice or revenge.

I was so delighted when I happened upon a show highlighting the 'response' to 9-11 of several survivors. These people suffered the ultimate loss of husbands, sisters, brothers, wives and friends and yet they all went on to do great projects to help improve relationships with people around the globe, particularly in the middle east.

One group raised money to create schools in Afghanistan. They looked at the 'conditions' in the world that they believed had contributed to an environment ripe for terrorism and decided to try to do something about that. They said they were doing what they believed their loved ones would have done 'in response' to what happened on September 11th and what it was trying to show us about the world and our place in it.

Two women who were widowed on Sept. 11th started an annual bike ride from Ground Zero in NYC to Boston to raise money to provide financial and emotional support for Widows in Afghanistan and to raise awareness about their plight. They started the "Beyond the 11th" organization to accomplish their goals. Their response to personal tragedy and 'attack' was to reach out, find commonality and help people who are much worse off than they were, even with their tremendous loss. Instead of bitterness and hatred, these women didn't spend time thinking about or working for revenge. They focused on addressing underlying causes of some of our world's misery and set out to do something about it.

Their website is:

I was so touched and moved while I was watching that show. September 11, 2001 was a horrible day. It has impacted us on more levels than most of us are even aware. We've lost many of our civil liberties in an effort to provide us with 'security.' We have invaded two countries in what I consider to be an ill-fated attempt to make us 'safe.' We have lost almost as many soldiers in the wars as we lost people on Sept 11th. We have been responsible for countless deaths of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq. I believe we have missed some of the lessons available to us in the horrors of that day. The women who started "Beyond the 11th" and the others I saw in that show that day have grasped the real lessons of that day and have blazed a trail into the future that I hope more and more of us will follow.

I am truly grateful that those people featured in that show took the courses of action that they took. They set a fine example of the resilience of the human spirit and of how anyone can emerge from tragedy and loss with clearer vision and a willingness to step forward to change our world. I applaud them and hope we see more and more of that in our world.

Peace, Salaam, Shalom...

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Is it Personal?

Ever had one of those experiences where you feel like you're being singled out for unfair treatment? Where there couldn't possibly be any other explanation for what is happening to you other than that someone is deliberately trying to be mean?

I recently took a long flight to NY and back and had the good fortune to find myself sitting in first class. I fly the same airline all the time and am always quite impressed with their in flight service. I don't always fly first class, but whenever I have, the service on this particular airline is top notch. So, I was pretty surprised when on my two recent flights, I had really negative service experiences.

On the first flight, the flight attendant consistently by passed me when he was serving something. If he was refilling water glasses, he would serve the guy next to me, get distracted and then go on to the next row and not return to me (without me asking later). It happened with water. It happened with wine. It happened with the bread basket. I had 2 empty glasses sitting on the arm rest between me and my neighbor for almost 2 hours of the flight. The flight attendant passed by at least 10 times, picked up used items from all the other passengers, and left mine sitting there. At one point, he came by with a tray of water glasses. He offered a glass to my seat mate. He declined. My seatmate (not the flight attendant) asked me if I'd like a fresh glass of water. I looked at the attendant right in the eyes, smiled and said, "Yes, I would, but could you take these first?" referring to the empty glasses. He sort of sneered at me and said, "I'll be right back." He continued serving the water to the other passengers, came back by to get my empties and didn't bring me a fresh glass of water. It was bizarre! I have to admit, it was a little hard to not take it personally. I mean, this guy really seemed to have an issue with me, although I couldn't possibly imagine what it might be!

What was even more remarkable was that I had almost the same experience on my return flight. Different flight attendant, but it was, once again, as if I were invisible, or as though I had really offended this guy some how. I was passed over for water refills, and the funniest interaction occurred over the 'bread service.' The flight attendant came by with the bread basket. The routine is, you point to the piece of bread that you want, and the attendant uses tongs to put it on your bread plate. So, I pointed to a lovely large piece of garlic bread to go with the pasta I was having for lunch. Instead of giving me the piece of bread that I had pointed at, the flight attendant grabbed a piece of the same type of bread, but it was about 1/5 of the size of the piece that I had selected. I kid you not, this piece of bread was a tiny little, rock hard heel of a french bread loaf. It was 2 small bites. The tiniest piece of bread I've ever seen! I must say, it was not something that should have been served to anyone. I literally cracked up as the guy walked away. WHAT IS UP? I thought to myself. Have I offended him in some way? Why is he being such a jerk? What is his problem?? I was feeling picked on... and somewhat victimized.

I was having trouble seeing it as a coincidence that both these male flight attendants had copped such an attitude with me. People usually like me and respond well to me. I'm polite and grateful when people are taking care of me. So it was really confusing why I was (seemingly) the only one having this negative experience with these flight attendants.

I did observe one incident with my seat mate on the second flight that helped me turn the corner in my head about what was going on. He had asked the attendant for coffee 3 times and hadn't been served. The third time he asked he looked at me and said, "What is wrong with that guy? Something is up with him. He obviously has a problem!" The flight attendant was not crazy busy or anything. And my seat mate was 3/4 of the way through his dessert before he finally got his coffee.

Now, its not that I was happy to see that someone else was being frustrated by the guy's lack of attentiveness, but it was a bit of a relief to realize that it was not limited strictly to an interaction between he and I!

That's when I started to 'get a grip' on my personalization of the experience. Who knows what is going on with either of these men? We can't possibly know. I may have just happened across two guys who are going through something rough in their lives. Their struggles might have manifested in them being distracted and a bit irritable. One thing I'm sure of is that their behavior didn't have anything to do with me or anything I said or did to them. Who knows, maybe I remind them of an ex-wife, ex-girlfriend or someone they are having trouble with. Even so... it wasn't about me.

I'm not saying that it is OK for people to take out their troubles on other unsuspecting people. When I'm on the receiving end of that sort of treatment, however, my biggest challenge is to not take it personally and not feed into the energy and make the interaction even more negative. It would have been so easy to give in to that impulse. When I watched the guy next to me have his little 'issue' with our attendant, I snapped out of my 'poor me' mode and realized that it was not personal.

When I arrived home, I was watching an inspirational speaker that I like on TV. Interestingly enough, he was talking about how quickly most of us personalize and take offense at the behavior of other people. As I listened to him and further strengthened my resolve about how to handle those interactions I was sure I was getting this message because I had been so challenged by these two guys on these flights.

Next time someone doesn't live up to your expectations in a service situation, or treats you in a way that you don't deserve, I encourage you to do your best to step back from the automatic 'reaction' that I was flirting with. Let go of the hurt, insult, feeling invisible, and realize that the person is probably just having a bad day. Don't add to it by being nasty back. Let it roll off of you like 'water off a duck's back' as my teacher used to say, and take the high road. You'll feel better in the end, especially if you find out that something difficult is going on in their life.

We can be a bright spot in some one's day, even if they are pouring on the gloom.

Just keep the mantra, 'It's not personal' very close at hand.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Persistent Crab in Poughkeepsie

I'm currently in New York City, visiting with my dear friends Fred and Mary Ann Brussat, who are the creators and maintainers of an incredible 'wisdom archive' that they currently share on their website If you've never checked it out, I encourage you to do so!

The three of us went on an adventure yesterday to Hudson, NY. We took the Metro North train from Grand Central Station to Poughkeepsie (about a 2 hour ride) where we rented a car for the rest of our journey. We had a pleasant drive to Rhinebeck, where we ate a fantastic lunch at a charming restaurant, "Terrapin." We owe that fine lunch to Fred, who stopped a young woman on the street to ask her for guidance on the best place in town to eat. She sure came through! It was a great example of asking for help and being well rewarded.

After lunch we drove up to Hudson to explore the little town and evaluate the possibility of it being a 'retirement spot' for Fred and Mary Ann some day. That is not to be, but we enjoyed the exploration and had quite a number of chuckles at some of the real estate we looked at. We learned that things certainly look different in real life from how real estate advertisements and Google Earth portray them!!

We drove back to Poughkeepsie, had a really nice dinner at "Shadows on the Hudson" and delivered our car back to the rental office. I called for a cab and we sat in our car (enjoying the air conditioning) waiting for its arrival. Time ticked by and the wait was starting to seem unreasonable to me. As we sat there chatting I watched 3 cabs go by on the mostly deserted street we were on. It's important to understand that hailing cabs is, for some reason, not a very comfortable thing for me to do. Even in New York City I always have some inexplicable anxiety whenever I do it. For some reason, this evening, I felt a lot less resistant to the idea. My impatience waiting for the other cab got the better of me so I got out of the car, walked up to the street and waited. In about 3 minutes, I saw a cab coming and I put my hand in the air. He put his turn signal on and came into the parking lot where we were waiting. It was not the cab that had been dispatched to us, but I believe he was the cab driver we were meant to have. We got into this cab and headed for the train station.

Anyone who knows me has heard some of my interesting cabbie stories. I've met some fascinating drivers and had some really wonderful and profound experiences riding in cabs! I don't, however, always talk to cab drivers. Especially if I have people with me. This evening I really felt a desire to talk to the young African American man driving our cab.

I asked him how he was doing, and he told me that he was a little tired, since he had just come from his first job to this, his second job. I asked him questions and he revealed that he worked as an aide to mentally handicapped people in the state hospital. At some point, he went into a monologue of sorts, with very little prompting from me, about how he is trying to make a better life for himself, how hard that is and that his mother always told him to 'never give up.' He talked about how little chance there was for a good career in this town and that he had found a really good one with good benefits and a good retirement plan. One of the most poignant things he said was that living in this town, especially for a young black man, was like being a crab in a barrel full of crabs. He told us that whenever one would try to climb out the others would grab on and pull him back down. I talked about what a persistent 'crab' he seemed to be and that I was sure he'd make it out of that barrel if he held on to his awesome attitude.

I was truly inspired by the honesty of this young man. Both with regards to his understanding of how important his attitude was in crafting the life he wanted to have and his honest assessment of the challenges he faced and the dominant 'paradigm' of hopelessness that he was surrounded by every day.

As we pulled into the Poughkeepsie train station, I prepared his fee for taking us to the airport. The fare was $6.50. I folded three $20 bills together, handed them to him and said, "This is for you."

He looked down, fanned the bills out, his jaw dropped, his eyes flew open wide and he said, "Are you kidding me?" He looked at me we locked gazes and I said "Don't you EVER give up. EVER." He kind of stammered for words and said, "Lady... I don't know you but this is... this is.... oh man!" He turned and looked at Fred and Mary Ann in the back seat and said, "I don't know you people... but.... this is... this is.... man!" I held out my hand and he took it. I said it again looking him square in the eyes, "Don't you EVER give up." He thanked me, said again that he couldn't believe this was happening ended with, "Lady... God Bless You."

You would have thought he won the lottery! We were all pleased that we were able to provide what we hoped was some encouragement and validation to a young man who faces lots of challenges, but has the attitude that can help him overcome and blow past those obstacles. I hope that he'll always remember the crazy people in the Poughkeepsie Cab... and how they recognized him as a 'persistent crab' who will indeed make it out of the barrel of hopelessness and despair. Perhaps it will encourage him on a dark night of the soul when he's tired of trying so hard. Maybe it will be a lift up when the other crabs are trying to grab him and pull him back to the status quo attitude of negativity and hopelessness. Let's all visualize this persistent young man crawling out of that barrel into a bright, promising, fulfilling future...and finding a way to help others to do the same.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

When Change Happens

I had a revelation today. Actually it started a few months back when I was on a two week driving trip with my mother and my uncle. We were doing a ‘family heritage’ trip in Texas. We visited lots of relatives and towns where my mom and her family had lived when she was a child. I had a very spiffy rental car…. NOT! I was struggling with the steering wheel one day. It just didn’t seem to be in the right place for me. My uncle suggested that I ‘adjust it’ to work better for me. Now, in the case of this particular car, there was a serious issue with the steering wheel. It had not been manufactured correctly and it was ‘crooked.’ The center portion of the steering wheel actually blocked my view of the speedometer when I was driving at freeway speeds. None-the-less, my uncle’s suggestion that I ‘adjust’ the steering wheel to my needs was truly something new to me. Now, I’ve been driving a looooooong time. I’ve owned many different types of autos and rented scores more. Until my uncle made this simple suggestion I had NEVER adjusted a steering wheel. I simply ‘accepted’ what was when I received the car!

How often in life do we do this? It had never even occurred to me that I could make a simple adjustment and turn my driving time into a much more comfortable and pleasant experience. It simply never occurred to me. What a difference it makes to have the steering wheel at an appropriate height and angle for my body.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am, let’s say, a bit on the vertically challenged side. I’m short! There are many times when this is a blessing, but I’m not ‘average’ height by any stretch of the imagination. So nothing is really designed with me in mind. Since that fateful day last spring, I have been obsessed with the new found power to control and tailor my driving environment. I’ve adjusted my two vehicles so the steering wheel feels just perfect. Every time I get a rental car, the steering wheel adjustment is on my list right after familiarizing myself with the lights, turn signals, windshield wipers and adjusting the mirrors.

It’s like living in an entirely new world! Such a simple concept… and it took me 28 years to discover this super easy way of making my life a little more comfortable and enjoyable.

Whenever I have one of these revelations that are so exquisitely simple, I become very excited about the next liberating discovery that I will make! The moral of the story for me is to keep my eyes open, and be willing to allow my life to be made easier. Sometimes I think we blind ourselves to things that will actually help us live a more peaceful, balanced and satisfying life.

Ever adjusted your steering wheel? Give it a try today! It might change your whole direction in life!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ready or Not -Time Marches On

I'm in the midst of a big 'technology overhaul' process in my life at the moment. I've recently upgraded a couple of my software applications to the newest versions and now I stand trembling in my shoes at the thought of converting over to the new Vista operating system and Office 2007. The new Office is pretty darn different from the old school versions which I have come to know and love. My rhetoric has softened a lot since Office 2007 first came out. At that time, I was certain it was going to be a colossal failure. I just knew that rational people everywhere would reject the software and Microsoft would have to come to their senses, give us back our menus and get rid of these silly ribbon things. Well, Office 2007 is doing just fine. In fact, many people really like it. Go figure. Over these many months I have come to accept that I'm the one who has to come to my senses. I've resisted this change as long as I can and now its time to face the music.

So why do we humans resist change so persistently? Why do we put off the inevitable? I think there are some important and legitimate answers to this question and it does us a great benefit to explore this issue rather than sweep it under the rug.

In my case, I have a tremendous fear of losing my high level of productivity. I am really afraid of needing to crank something out quickly in Word or Excel (two of the Office applications) and finding myself incapable of figuring it out. Time pressure and lack of knowledge is a deadly combination for me. Or so my fear tells me.

I'm also a creature of habit. Ask anyone who has seen me enthusiastically and happily watch a movie for the 25th time. Repetition and the 'known' is comforting to me. I feel insecure and unstable when I'm learning new things. Accepting new technology puts me squarely out of my comfort zone and into the squirming zone.

There is also probably a little bit of attachment to the 'old' ways of doing things for nostalgia's sake. I enjoy the fact that I've been around the computing world for a loooooong time and remember when all this (now obsolete) stuff was the absolute cutting edge. Now I can barely keep up with the cutting edge and it makes me feel a bit obsolete! :)

I also resent 'change for change's sake' and sometimes I feel that in the area of technology, things are changed to look spiffier and create an image of 'newness' when nothing substantial changes. In fact, I'm often irritated when new versions of software come out - leaving major problems unsolved, but with new ways to accomplish the same old stuff. New things for me to learn while I work around the same old problems that have been there since the beginning of time. Frustrating indeed.

Of all my 'reasons' for resisting change, the only 'legitimate' one might be that last one. The others, however, reflect a deeper personality trait that is very strong in me, and I believe is present in most humans to a certain level.

Those reasons for resisting the march of time and progress, while understandable, hold me back from fulfilling my potential. Ever watch a young person with a computer or any other electronic device? They just go for it and figure it out. Seemingly without effort. One aspect of their behavior that leads to success is their fearlessness. They aren't worried about what will happen if they screw up the system and can't print the next day, or open a software application. It doesn't occur to them to be afraid. That is the big difference between some of us, ummm... older folks and the young ones.

We can really take a lesson from the way younger people embrace and use technology. I do alright for a 40-something, ex computer professional, but I seek to move more easily and fluidly from one technological advance to the next.

I believe by doing so I blaze a new way of being in this world in general. Letting go of the old is important for being able to receive and celebrate the new. It's no less true in the world of technology than it is in any area of life.

I guess that my 'lesson' about this comes at me in many ways, and right now is showing up in my relationship to technology.

My teacher, Dr. Chuck Bruni, used to always say, "What we resist persists. What we fight against grows stronger." Ain't it the truth? The longer I struggle and fight against something, the more it comes at me. All my resistance and struggle does is exhaust me so that I have less energy to invest in moving forward, which I always end up doing anyway. Why waste all that energy in resisting and pretending I don't have to face it?

So, hold good thoughts for me as I make the shift into a whole new world of software. I will be using it as a powerful 'statement' to myself about my willingness to embrace the inevitable process of change that IS life itself.

Is there some change that is looming in your life? Are you ignoring, denying or resisting it? I encourage you to explore the 'reasons' why you are dragging your heels, and see if you can't identify some patterns that might be holding you back in life. Be compassionate with yourself. Be honest. So many times, what we have resisted isn't nearly as huge as we feared it would be. It might be time to grab that bull by the horns and start challenging your old ways of doing things, and move more fully into your potential!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Welcome to Inspired Path® Living

I finally decided it was time to join the modern world. In the world of psychology and spirituality, I am a brave adventurer. I love to wrestle with new and complex ideas. I am not timid and shy about tackling the new frontier when it comes to the realm of how to work with our minds and hearts in order to tranform our lives!

I must admit, however, that in the area of 'new techology' I sometimes tend to be, what we call in the computer industry, a 'slow adopter.' I like for things to be 'tried and true' before I dip into them. In some ways this serves me well. I let others 'debug' things before I start to use them. In other ways, it probably holds me back. Most times I simply view my slow adopter status as a survival tactic. In today's world, things move and change so fast. That can be a bit overwhelming for us human types.

Something I know about myself is that I don't always have to have the newest, fastest, slickest new toy in order to be happy. So, I hang back until I really think something will be useful to me.

So... now is the time to blog! I will use this forum to share some ideas and thoughts about life and our human processes of personal and spiritual growth, change and evolution.

Perhaps these writings can provide a little inspiration, motivation and encouragement. That will be my goal.

Once again, welcome! I look forward to the journey ahead.