Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Wisdom from the Jungle

I guess its time to come clean about my title. I’m not actually writing from the jungle in Brazil or some exotic place. Today’s topic comes from a lesson I learned while working in the wilds of my garden in Washington State.

I’ve always had difficulty with the concept of pruning. No matter how many times I’ve been told through the years that ‘pruning invigorates growth,’ I have always preferred my own approach: “live and let live.” Sure, I like natural looking, healthy plants, but I haven’t always trusted that pruning will yield that result. It looks like it might be painful to the plant. I wince whenever I do it. As for cutting out dead branches… well, that has been more of a laziness and time limitation issue. A recent event changed my view of this important process.

A few years ago, at the beginning of spring, I noticed a grouping of 5 miniature shrubs that had not wintered well and had very little green on them. I left them for dead and assumed I would simply replace them. A friend, who sometimes works in my garden, did not know of my plan. She carefully tended each plant and cut out all of the dead wood. There was almost nothing left of these little plants. I thought was a waste of her time. A month later I looked out my window to see that all of these plants were putting on tons of new growth. Not only were they going to make it… they were thriving! I couldn’t believe it! Just cutting out the dead wood had literally brought them back to life. This excited and motivated me.

I began to think about this resurrection, both as a testament to the wisdom of pruning in the garden and also as a metaphor for life. I took out my best pruning shears and went to work on the rest of my garden. It was a time of great reflection and revelation.

Plant after plant, I cut and removed dead wood. I realized that although it was obviously dead to me, the plant was probably continuing to send energy to those dead limbs and branches. The dead areas of the shrub were draining energy and life from the rest of the plant. The whole plant was suffering and stunted in its own health and growth because energy was being diverted to try and revive the dead places and protect the rest of the plant from insects or disease that might attack the useless dead wood. Wow. How often in my life have there been dead things that I have refused to let go of? How much was I dragging with me at this very moment that was draining my energy and holding me back? What old, ‘dead’ beliefs, attitudes, ideas, addictions, relationships, commitments, etc. was I hanging on to out of habit, obligation or fear and how were these things weighing me down, preventing me from moving on or growing into my full potential? Pruning suddenly got a lot more interesting.

As I pruned, I realized how tricky the process can be. Cutting out obviously dead wood is pretty easy. If it’s dead it needs to go! It isn’t always so obvious. Sometimes something on the plant looks dead, but really isn’t. Sometimes something looks alive, but is actually dead. One must really be careful about cutting something off of a plant, or out of one’s life. It must be done with a lot of discernment and awareness.

Some things look really beautiful, but they are not good for the plant. Water shoots or suckers growing up from around the trunk of a tree for example. They divert valuable resources away from the tree itself. They are lush, healthy, attractive… and yet they are destructive. Hmmm…. Have I had ‘suckers’ in my life that looked really good but wouldn’t quit until I was sucked dry of everything I have? Ouch. Snip, snip, snip.

Perhaps the hardest part of pruning is to think long term. Some cuts will make the plant less attractive in the short term, but will create a more natural looking, pleasing shape down the road. Bigger and more are not always better. If we leave everything on some plants they will eventually be overgrown, out of shape and unattractive. Another ah-ha. Sometimes what makes us feel good one day, might be the very thing that brings us down the next. Short term gratification is probably not the healthiest motivator… in pruning or in life. We might have to shorten or take off some of the longest and strongest branches, in order to maintain balance and long term health. Snip, snip, snip.

I’ve learned a lot from my pruning adventures in my garden. It really is both a science and an art. It has been amazing to see my garden transform in appearance, health and vitality. Pruning really works… in the garden and in life. Sharpen up your pruning shears, your awareness and get busy. Happy snipping!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Defenses vs Good Boundaries

Yesterday, I wrote about the "Wall" in Israel and Palestine. I said it would never bring peace and security. It might temporarily give a sense of 'progress' to people who are afraid, but it will only bring more hardship, hatred, despair and violence in the long run. It is a misguided attempt to solve a problem that has not been defined properly, or analyzed from an enlightened perspective. The 'solution' comes from fear and ignorance. No solution that comes from that place will ever solve any problem.

I thought it would be useful to have a discussion about walls (which I would call a 'defense') and boundaries. I came across two great books a couple years ago by Anne Katherine. One is titled, "Boundaries" and the other is titled, "Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day." In these books, Ms. Katherine talks about the difference between a 'defense' and a 'boundary.'

A defense is something we erect out of fear in order to prevent things from getting to us. It is a barrier that is impermeable - it keeps EVERYTHING from getting through... good or bad, desirable or undesirable. It makes no difference what it is, a barrier prevents it from getting through and into our space. A defense removes our ability to interact with our world in a healthy, empowered way. A defense takes us out of reality, and puts us in an isolated world of our own creation. We deny what is outside the defense and try to ignore it. The irony is that ultimately, that which we are trying to keep out, does find a way in, but usually in a much more threatening manner.

A boundary, on the other hand, is something that we construct to keep some things out of our experience, but allow other things in. We choose. We decide. We can allow or not allow, depending on whether something is good for us, or not. A boundary is constructed with awareness and is designed to provide good self care. It is not created or maintained from a place of fear or desperation. It is an empowered way of interacting with the world. It allows us to fully experience all that life has to offer, while still protecting our self from things that might harm us.

Most of us resort to putting up defenses, because we don't know how to set good boundaries. When we have poor boundaries, and aren't assertive enough to set and enforce good boundaries, our fear drives us to throw up defenses. Defenses are more straight forward. There is nothing but black and white. Nothing gets in. That's clear and easy to understand. Boundaries are more complex and take more awareness, assertiveness and mental health to create and maintain. There is more risk involved in boundary setting, because the answers aren't so cut and dried about what should and shouldn't get through. Boundaries are infinitely more healthy, honest and reality based. Defenses are based on the fantasy that we can keep ourselves safe by blocking the rest of the world from accessing us and our inner world.

The wall in Israel and Palestine is a great example of a defense. Built from a place of anger and fear, it attempts to keep out threats, but actually works to perpetuate more hatred, anger and resentment. It limits the interaction between the two peoples: the Israelis and Palestinians. It makes positive interactions as impossible as negative ones. It creates a false sense of security from the 'bad' things, and it eliminates all the positive interactions that could actually create a lasting and true peace.

The sad thing about defenses is that they don't really work. They might appear to, for a time, but the things that defenses are intended to prevent and keep out, eventually get through, around the edges. Those 'dangers' cannot be held at bay in the long run, because they originate from deeper causes which must be addressed before they are resolved. The defense only delays the inevitable 'day or reckoning' and in the mean time prevents positive things from 'coming through' that could actually speed up the true resolution of the problem.

Defenses are an illusion. They don't work. They are short sighted and misguided. They do not address the real problem. They wrestle with symptoms and make everything worse... not better. It might feel good temporarily, but that too is an illusion.

Our quality of life is greatly improved when we are setting and maintaining good boundaries. They help us maintain healthy and satisfying relationships where no one is the victim and no one is the abuser. Defenses encourage and sustain relationships of abuser/victim. The wall in Israel and Palestine is a great example of this.

Learning about how we use boundaries and defenses in our individual lives is an important and worthwhile endeavor. As each of us gets healthier in setting boundaries, and stop relying on defenses, our world will get more and more peaceful.

It really is that simple!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Walls are Denial

The media calls it a "fence" or a "separation barrier." It is actually, in many places, a huge concrete barrier 20 feet high and several feet thick. It is a wall to try and separate the Israelis from the Palestinians. The architects say it will bring security and peace to Israel.

To me, everything in the outer world is a metaphor and a reflection of the inner world. What manifests in our physical reality is a reflection of our individual consciousness. What manifests in our larger world is a reflection of our collective, group consciousness.

We build walls of defense in our individual lives all the time. In an attempt to protect ourselves from perceived danger, we put up barriers to people, feelings, situations, anything that we believe threatens us. We try to block out pain and trouble.

Traveling in Israel and Palestine, I saw the separation wall up close and personal for the first time a few years back. It is much more intrusive and pervasive now than it was then. What struck me most when I first saw it, is that the section I saw, running alongside the road I was driving on, was painted to look like a Roman water aqueduct. It was camouflaged to look like something pleasant and beautiful. The Arab villages on the other side were simply not visible.

It reminded me of a trip I made to the Jewish Settlement of Gilo several years back. Gilo is on one side of a valley, and the Arab village of Beit Jala is on the other. Gilo has erected huge concrete walls to protect cars entering the settlement from sniper fire from Beit Jala. Like the aqueduct paintings, this wall was adorned with paintings of meadows, wildflowers, sheep grazing… a bucolic, serene scene. The irony to me was so clear. It was as if to say, “We will see what we want to see… not what is actually there. We will not face reality. It’s too difficult.”

This wall will not bring peace… or security… to anyone. No wall that we ever build to blindly shut things out of our experience will serve us well in the end. All walls built in fear and anger will only bring us more despair and pain.

When we look at the walls of our outer world, I hope we can see that they are merely reflections of our inner states of consciousness. It is there that we must make changes. Then we won’t need to erect physical walls anymore.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Miniature Worlds

I have a love of all things miniature. Born long ago because of my next door neighbor lady, Lucy. She was like a grandmother to me. She had a doll house in her dining room filled with miniature furnishings and lights that turned on and off. It was magical to me, and I started to look for miniature versions of things from that time on. It's a passion that continues to this day.

As I was walking outside today, looking at all the leaves on the ground, I noticed that amongst the 'normal-sized' red maple leaves was one perfectly shaped leaf that was about 1/5th the size of all the others. It was a miniature leaf! I picked it up and slipped it carefully into my pants pocket. It is now sitting here on my desk, bringing me cheer on an otherwise gloomy day!

It got me to thinking about something that I loved to do as a child. I loved to create 'miniature worlds' outdoors. What this process involved was picking up things in whatever environment I was in and making some sort of scene out of those things. I might be at the beach, in the woods, on a river bank or in my own backyard. I have created camp sites for a camping trip, farms, luaus, parks... just about everything! It is an act of creativity and imagination. I love putting rocks, twigs, leaves and other natural materials together to create a little world.

I had a vivid imagination as a child (obviously) and stories are still told about how I could have all the fancy toys in the world, but I could amuse myself for hours just playing with an empty cardboard box. The miniature world activity was born from this same imagination.

As I grew older I noticed that kids didn't seem to have the sort of imagination that I had when I was little. There are so many 'real' things in today's world for kids to engage with. They have telephones, where as kids we had to pretend that a banana was a telephone. Kids today might actually get a little car that drives around, whereas we had to use an empty cardboard box and pretend.

The lack of ability to imagine really bothered me when I noticed it in the kids around me. I didn't do a lot of babysitting as a teenager, but I did some. I used to take it on as a special challenge to cultivate the imaginations of the kids I sat with. I used a variety of techniques, and 'miniature worlds' was always one of my favorite tools. I've never met a kid yet that didn't love to do this.

I've continued to do this activity with the kids in my life as I've grown older. I still really enjoy it. One time, when building a miniature world at a beach with a good friend's children, I received a lovely confirmation that my mission to encourage creativity was working. One of the 4 kids that I was playing with said, "Wow! I never knew you could have so much fun with just rocks and sticks and things!" Indeed!

I am still known to stop and build a miniature world these days, even if I'm by myself. It gives me some sort of simple pleasure and satisfaction. I hope I'm able to share this activity with kids for a long time to come. If you've never tried it, I encourage you to do so! Grab a kid and go play with some rocks and sticks and things!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Rising From the Ashes

On my recent trip to NYC, I visited St. Paul's chapel, which is across the street from the World Trade Center site. This special little church survived the devastation on September 11, 2001, with not even one broken window. This was quite remarkable given it's proximity to all that happened on that day. The courtyard of the church contains several trees and a small graveyard. Only one tree was destroyed from the firestorm of debris that engulfed the church. It was truly a miracle.

I visited the trade center site in May of 2002, just 8 months after September 11th. In fact, I assisted two friends of mine, Barry Dennis and Mat Boggs in leading a healing pilgrimage tour to NYC. We took our group in to St. Paul's chapel. I have friends who were affiliated with the Trinity Church at Wall Street. St. Paul's belongs to Trinity Wall Street. Even though St. Paul's, at that time, was only open to the crews working "the pit" to clean out the debris, we were allowed in. We heard two volunteers tell powerful and poignant stories about volunteering there through all the rescue efforts and the clean up process. The chapel provided food, massage, chiropractic adjustments, a place to rest and much needed supplies to the rescue workers and later to the clean up crews. It was quite an extraordinary event to be allowed in to this sacred space and hear from some of the people who made it all happen.

When our group was finished inside the chapel, we went out into the courtyard behind the church. It is literally right across the street from the Trade Center site. As I walked down the path through the graveyard, I looked at the old headstones on either side of me. Most of them were so worn down that you couldn't read what was carved on them. The very first tombstone that was legible as I walked down the path was for a woman who died on September 11th in about 1796. I got chills as I saw this gravestone. Somehow it felt significant to me.

As I stood there, dumbfounded over this gravestone, I gazed up into the trees and saw another site that sent chills up and down my spine. There were several bird's nests in the trees that were made largely of debris from the Trade Center! Pieces of paper, plastic... all the various pieces of rubble that had come down to cover downtown Manhattan. I felt tears well up in my eyes as I realized that even out of this terrible destruction, new life could rise again. It was strangely comforting to me that the birds were showing us that this rubble could somehow be used to build a future.

I noticed in later visits that St. Paul's has a picture of one of those bird's nests in a pictorial timeline of the events of September 11th posted at the entry of the church. I was pleased that this phenomenon had captured other people's attention, and that it has been built into the permanent memorial at the chapel.

No one wishes for tragedy and loss, but when it visits us, we can take a lesson from these birds... to use the remnants of the loss to move forward. It isn't necessarily easy, but it is possible.

This is a picture I took of one of the bird's nests at St. Paul's
Chapel in NYC, May 2002. It is a little tough to make out,
I realize, but there is a lot of Trade Center debris in
this particular nest.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Promise of Peace Endures

I was in NYC this past week, showing a friend the sites. One of the things I always make sure people see when in NYC is the sculpture in Battery Park known as "The Sphere." The Sphere stood in the courtyard at the World Trade Center and was a monument to World Peace. It survived the horrors of that day with only dents and holes. It is indeed a testament to the resilience of the quest and promise of peace on this earth. Even the world crashing down on it did not destroy it. It survived.

They have moved the sphere to battery park and lit an eternal flame in front of it to honor those who died on September 11, 2001.

Here is an article about the sphere from Wikipedia:

I remember the first time I saw the Sphere and realized where it had been and what it 'stood for' I got chills. It is quite amazing when you realize what 'came down' on this sculpture that day and yet, it is remarkably in tact. How could something so comparatively small, and so vulnerable survive the entire world crashing down on top of it? I believe that it was its essential energy and message that protected it. I believe it survived to remind us that, even with one of the most horrific displays of violence this country has ever known, the ideal of peace is still alive and quite possible. I believe that this sculpture coming through this experience was to remind us that no matter how dark it seems, there is always hope.

It's up to us. We can treat any horrible event as an excuse to take revenge and perpetrate more violence and hatred in the world, or we can focus on the fact that peace can still come to pass. It's up to us and what we choose to put our energy toward, both individually and collectively.

Me in front of the "The Sphere" in Battery Park, NYC.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Taller Tree Takes More Wind

I was watching a TV preacher that I like recently. His name is Joel Osteen. I really enjoy listening to him speak. I'd say I agree with about 95% of what he teaches, at least in his TV broadcasts. He is always smiling and always has motivating, encouraging and inspiring things to say.

In this broadcast, he was talking about dealing with criticism from others. His message was about the importance of realizing that not everyone is going to like you and that we can waste tremendous amounts of life energy if we focus on trying to make everyone like us.

One point that he made is that the more successful we are, the more we are likely to be criticized by other people. He talked about why this is true... sometimes jealousy over what we've achieved or what we have and sometimes it is just that by fulfilling our potential we shine a light on others who have not chosen to fulfill theirs. This can make them uncomfortable and even angry. They sometimes take it out on the one near them who has done what they have not done, or acquired what they have not acquired.

I think there are many reasons why people 'pick' on another person. I have experienced it first hand and I've witnessed it in the world around me. Often, people do want to tear down those who have achieved something great, because they feel jealous that they haven't done the same.

I think that anyone who rises above in any aspect of life is a natural target for those who would be jealous, envious or just plain destructive.

Once when I was in upstate NY, at a Catholic retreat center on the Hudson River, I was contemplating what it might be like to live in the public eye. In my own life, I seem to attract a certain amount of attention, and people seem to listen to what I say. The responsibility of that is never far from my mind. For whatever reason, I've been given a voice that resonates with people. It has, however, also made me a target, of sorts, for various people. Sometimes they feel rejected by me, because I can't give them the amount of time in a relationship that they would like from me. Sometimes they resent what I have acquired in my life. Sometimes people think that I've come by everything I have through luck... and discount all the work (both inside myself and in this world) that I've gone through to get where I am (both inside myself and in this world!) It used to get to me more than it does now, but I'm still working on this one.

While at that retreat center, during a 4 hour silent retreat experience, I happened to look out of my dorm window into a little rock courtyard. I saw an interesting site. There was a little seedling growing out of the rocks. It was fairly tall. All around the tall seedling, there was a circle of much smaller seedlings. The wind was really whipping that day. I noticed that while the smaller seedlings weren't being moved too much by the wind, the tallest seedling in the middle was being blown about quite violently.

It struck me that when you achieve some sort of stature in life, you will 'catch more wind.' That seedling in the middle was larger, stronger and it rose above the others... and it was getting whipped around by the wind. It comes with the territory.

This is so true in life. When you achieve something you've worked hard for, many will suggest you've been given an easy ride. People look at movie stars or those who have achieved great success and dismiss their accomplishments as luck and criticize them for their opulent lifestyles. Those who somehow rise above are often targeted, quite unfairly. Again, it comes with the territory.

I think this happens every day to all of us in some way. Achievement at school, at work, or in other arenas can make us vulnerable to the jealousy and mean spirited nature of other people. As Joel was saying this morning, we need to just "shake that stuff off" and focus on what really matters to us. We shouldn't waste a single second of energy trying to deal with the mean things people might say about us, or the ways that they try to minimize our accomplishments or our contributions. We need to literally rise above that negativity, and not get down in the mud and start slinging it back.

A taller tree will take more wind, but it has the deeper and stronger roots required to withstand that wind. And guess what, the wind causes it to cultivate deeper and stronger roots still. Those winds are what cause us to grow taller, stronger and more resilient. We are grown for and by our life experiences. We are cultivated to fulfil our destiny.

Next time you are feeling rocked by the wind, realize you too are being grown strong and mighty to fulfil your destiny on this earth. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

The scene from my dormitory window at the retreat center.
The taller seedling in the center was catching more wind.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thoughts on "The Secret"

Ever notice how when you have an injury of some sort, it seems to act almost like a magnet for more pain? For example, ever notice how if you have a hurt toe, that is the one you seem to stub over and over again? Or it is inevitably the one that people step on? When we are in pain, we tend to focus on the pain. That’s human nature. Our awareness is ‘drawn’ to the area of injury by the sensation of pain, the fear that we’ll hurt it again, etc. In fact, the wound seems especially vulnerable to reinjury.

It is as though the injury attracts more injury. The wound seems to draw additional pain to itself.

I think this ordinary experience that we’ve all had illustrates an important universal truth: Like attracts like. What we focus on grows and expands. What we place our attention on, we get more of.

This is one of the main concepts presented in the recent book and movie phenomenon known as ‘The Secret.’ Some people loved The Secret, others really disliked it. Of those who disliked it, a main objection was that it seemed to have an exaggerated focus on material acquisition. Some felt that it encouraged a sort of greed and entitlement that is not good for us as individuals, our larger community or the planet. While I share some of these concerns, I believe that The Secret serves an important and positive purpose at this time. Its primary message is that our thoughts and our consciousness have a profound impact on our life experiences. What we think about and put our attention on (even if it’s at a subconscious level) will grow and expand. We will attract more of it to ourselves… good or bad, pleasurable or painful.

How this works is a divine mystery. I don’t presume to know how the universe and the creator engineer this so we attract what we are focusing on. I do, believe, however that we are attracting that which we need in order to grow and evolve as spiritual beings. The things we attract, be it people, relationships, experiences and even injuries, come into our lives to teach us about ourselves and the way the universe works. We are given powerful learning opportunities to clean up old, distorted patterns inside ourselves that keep us stuck at levels of living we were never meant to hang out in. I believe we are self healing mechanisms, and that Spirit seeks our wholeness. We are constantly being given opportunities to let go of things inside us that no longer serve us and to move into ever higher levels of consciousness and health on every level.

The Secret uses a lot of material examples to show us how to work with our thoughts and inner states of conscious to change our outer world. While the focus is quite material, I tend to look at this as a ‘first course’ in learning the importance of our mental and emotional states held over time. It is the easiest place in our lives to start learning this truth and proving it to ourselves.

I use the following example to illustrate what I mean here. You can’t go into a kindergarten classroom and start teaching calculus. Any of you remember counting beans on the table? That’s where you start when you are in kindergarten.

The Secret presents basic, rudimentary concepts about manifestation and the power of consciousness. It’s a super simplified version of the universal truth of our ability to manifest and co-create our worlds with God or Spirit. The goals change as we mature in our knowledge levels. Just as our bean counting on the tables in kindergarten morphs into balancing our checkbooks, paying bills, and donating to charities when we are older, the material focus in The Secret is only a place to begin. Being of service to other people, Spirit and the planet are more mature expressions of the spiritual concepts presented in the Secret. They didn’t take it that far, partly because of time limitations and also because they didn't want to overwhelm people with too much information at the beginning of the journey.

We all start by working on the areas where we have pain in our lives… relationship challenges, debt, material lack. That’s why The Secret started with these areas of focus. When we start to learn and practice this concept in those more concrete areas and get some of that stuff handled, we become free to elevate our goals and aspirations to be less self focused and more service oriented. It is more difficult to have higher aspirations if you are fighting for your own survival. I’m certainly not implying that its impossible, plenty of people have done it, but it is much more difficult and many people simply won’t do it. They need to learn the concepts in the soil of their life’s own garden before they can apply it to the larger world.

One of my biggest complaints about The Secret is that the concepts taught there aren’t secrets at all. The ideas come from many ancient wisdom traditions and have been available to us all from the beginning of time. Universal Truth doesn’t change. It simply is. Nor do I believe, as they suggest, that there was some big conspiracy by the ‘powerful’ to hide it and conceal it from us.

We, through our own ignorance and mutual agreement have buried these principles, or not resisted others who have shown us less empowered ways to live. Our religious leaders, political leaders and other authority figures have their own models for how the world works, and we often willingly and blindly follow them. That’s how the ‘Secret’ became a Secret. I don’t deny that some leaders, especially religious ones, have motivation to keep people dependent upon them and to keep people from feeling that they have direct connection to the creator, but I still don’t buy that there was a giant coordinated conspiracy to conceal these principles from us. That seemed a bit contrived to me in the way they presented it in ‘The Secret.’

Bottom line is, I do believe there is value in The Secret. I think it represents the ‘bursting into mass consciousness’ of a powerful spiritual principle. Albeit in a rather spiritually immature form… but we all have to start somewhere. I started way back when using these ideas to heal my eating disorder, to manifest parking places and to get out of a tremendous amount of debt. And yes, I used it to work on acquiring things, back in the days when towards the end of a pay period for my job, I’d be digging coins out of my couch cushions in order to go buy things at the grocery store. I didn’t start off trying to manifest world peace. I started off trying to manifest money to go get a 48 oz. Diet Coke from 7-11. I’ve come a long way baby! :)

Others, exposed to these ideas through ‘The Secret’ have the opportunity to come a long way also. That is my belief. It’s a doorway into a world that many people have yet to discover. I believe it will ultimately be a positive thing for human consciousness.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lessons From the Fish

When I am in in Israel, I always spend some time in the north, in Tiberias. My friend Steve and I like to stay at a particular hotel right on the Sea of Galilee. We have our morning rituals there, and one of them is to feed bread to the fish in the Sea.

Every morning, we have breakfast in the hotel, and we take leftover bread from the buffet to feed our fish friends. Oddly enough, these particular fish LOVE to eat bread. I've seen the restaurant workers, at the end of the day, dump huge bags full of stale bread into the sea... and the fish gobble it up.

During one of our fish feeding experiences, I noticed an interesting phenomenon in the 'fish world' that holds some meaning for us humans. When we toss pieces of bread into the water, the fish go after the bread with enthusiasm and a lot of competition. In fact, it often turns in to a literal 'feeding frenzy.' They take bites of the pieces of bread until it disappears.

On this particular day, I noticed that there was something white in the water... a small piece of something... floating. It was obviously not edible, because the fish, in a group, surrounded it and took turns trying to eat it. As soon as one would get it entirely into its mouth, he (or she) would let it go. Yuck! Not food! But the group of fish continued to take turns 'trying' to eat it.

Every once in a while one fish would take off with this item and disappear far below the water's surface. The fish mob would disband. Then, suddenly the object would float up to the top and reappear on the surface of the water. Spat out by yet another fish, but this time, the fish had gone on about their business and were not there waiting to try and grab it next. The object would float there, pretty much unnoticed, until one fish would start to poke at it. Then, the other fish would come swarming... and the process would begin again.

When one fish wanted it... all the fish wanted it. It didn't matter if it was NOTHING. All the fish tried and tried (again) to eat something that was NOT food!! When nobody was poking at it... there was no frenzy. But when one fish noticed it and by his or her actions indicated that it might be something desirable... all the other fish joined in the frenzy to try to make it their own.

We see this all the time in human nature. Something that essentially has no real value... is valued by someone... and suddenly everyone wants it! Think fads... think materialism... think supply and demand... think anything that people copy other people's behavior around. We do it all the time. It is so easy to get lured into thinking that something has value because others think it has value.

On the flip side of the coin, the things that truly do have value are often forgotten because other people aren't swarming around them, making them appear desirable. It is an interesting phenomenon... in fish... and, in people.

To follow the frenzy, or seek a true path. I believe that is a choice we make on a daily basis. Our challenge is to not be deceived by the appeal something has to others. Thinking for ourselves and choosing wisely is up to us.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

You're Blocking My View!

Greetings from New York City! I'm spending a few days showing a friend of mine around this magnificent place. She's never been here and I consider NY to be one of my alternate homes! I love this city and enjoy the massive variety in human expression that exists here.

Yesterday, my friend and I went on one of the double-decker tour buses to give her a nice overview of the city's layout. This is her first trip here and those buses are a great way to get a feel for how massive, diverse and fascinating this place really is!

As we took our seats up on the top deck of the bus, three Italian tourists took the seats next to us. One man took the only yellow colored seat on the bus. Evidently, this seat is reserved for the tour guide. The tour guide came up the stairs to begin the tour. He took his microphone and started to tell us about all that we were seeing.

He was standing in front of the gentlemen in the yellow seat, leaning against a hand rail as he talked with us. The man in the guide seat was maybe 3 or 4 feet away from the guide.

As the guide gave us commentary on the passing sites, this Italian trio was chatting fairly loudly amongst themselves. The guide came over to them and quietly asked if they would mind using softer voices to converse, and if they needed to do any translating, they might need to relocate a few rows further back. The chatting was pretty distracting to him as he was trying to tell his bus load of people about the city. As a tour leader myself, I sympathized with his plight. It is really difficult to keep your train of thought when people are talking right next to you. I felt he was perfectly within his right to ask these folks to lower their voices, or move further away from him if they needed and wanted to talk. Especially since one of them was in the seat that is saved for the guide!

The people kept up their chatting, and he interacted with them about it a time or two more. He was losing his patience a bit.

Then... it happened. The man in the guide seat leaned forward and tapped the guide on the side as he was speaking. The guide stopped to see what the man wanted. The man said, "Please... really... you must move. Can't you sit down or something? You are blocking my view! I see nothing!"

I thought the guide might blow a gasket. He said, "You've got to be kidding me!?!?! First, you are in my seat. Next you speak loudly while I'm trying to do my job and inform all my guests about the city and now you want me to move? Where am I going to go?" He said this as he motioned to the small aisle and the short microphone cord that he had. "I mean... look... you have a 360 degree view of the cityscape" he said, as he motioned all around us in every direction, "and you can't see? Are you kidding me?"

He said a few more things to the man and the situation did not escalate any further, thankfully! I was struck by this interaction, however, because it was actually quite profound.

This man literally had almost an unlimited view in every direction of the magnificent sites and sounds of NYC. He sat, however, with his head facing straight forward and was annoyed that the guide was blocking the view directly ahead at eye level. Truth be told, none of us were looking straight ahead much of the time, because everything was happening beside us and above us. This man acted like he couldn't turn his head... or lift his eyes. It was as though he had those blinders on, like the ones they put on horses! "You are blocking my view!" he said to the guide. He sat there like a statue, staring straight ahead, but he was blaming the guide for his lack of a good view.

It struck me that this is something we all do from time to time. We lock our gaze on one thing, in one direction, or look at things from one perspective. If something or someone 'gets in our way' as we are looking from that one vantage point, we blame them (or it) for messing up our view. Instead of changing our position, our perspective or our vantage point, we stare straight ahead and ask our circumstances to change so that we don't have to.

It was a powerful moment. The guide was not 'blocking this man's view.' He was, in fact, standing in front the the man. The world was available to this man in 98% of the available surrounding area, but he chose to focus on a tiny 2% that was in one particular direction and be irritated because the guide was standing there. He couldn't see what was available to him because he was unwilling to even turn his head! The guide wasn't blocking this man's view. The man was blocking his own view by his rigidity, his stubbornness, and his limiting belief that there was only one direction to look in!

How often do we do this? It is well worth thinking about. This rather rude and somewhat clueless tourist... and this New York tour guide taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of looking all around, having an open mind and being willing to change my vantage point when I'm not seeing what I want and need to see. The power is in my hands to experience more of the world around me. A person standing in front of me does not need to prevent me from seeing and experiencing all that life has to offer. It's available in a thousand different directions, any one of which, I can choose. I can turn my head, lift my eyes are move to a different vantage point. We all have that ability, each and every moment.

Our tour guide responding to the man's complaint. You can see the man's head... and you can see how much he can 'actually' see!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Shifting Sizes

I recently have had the opportunity to do a little clothes and shoe shopping. I had heard that some clothing makers have started to make women’s clothing larger, so that women can wear a smaller size than they ‘really’ are (at least according to the old sizes). I find this fascinating and a little frustrating. I’m not necessarily a stable size, so it isn’t that big of a deal to me. I always have to try everything on anyway. Although, I must admit, it is confusing if you don’t have a clue where to start.

The real shock came, however, when I went to try on shoes. I was looking for some new fall boots. I was a size 7.5 for most of my teenage and adult life. About 3 years ago I slipped over the line into an 8. I haven’t bought a 7.5 in about 2 years. I always start trying on shoes at size 8 and usually that’s what I end up with. Very predictable. Having a consistent size, makes shoe buying so much easier than clothes shopping!

So imagine my surprise when I tried on the size 8 boots from six different designers and found them enormously large. I felt a little silly, but asked my salesperson to bring me 7.5s in the 6 styles I had selected. He brought them. They were still far too big!! I was really, really confused. I ended up buying size 7 boots! I haven’t been a size 7 since I was about 14 years old. What the heck is going on?

The salesperson told me that he’d heard that shoe designers were following the clothing designers in trying to boost women’s feelings about themselves by making the shoes bigger so that women can buy smaller sizes.

OK. It’s gone too far! What is up with that? Are we really so attached to sizes in clothing and shoes that we need to manipulate them to influence our moods and even our self esteem? I’m sad to say, as a recovered bulimic, that I know how seriously we can become addicted to numbers on the scale or the clothing tag. A sad commentary on how easily we get off track when assessing our value as women and as human beings. There was a time in my life when the number on the scale determined my entire day’s mood. I’m not alone in having an unhealthy, obsessive relationship to physical aspects of ourselves. Its fine to care about our appearance, but it is very sad when how we look, or what size we wear becomes so important that we do dangerous or manipulative things to achieve our desired outcome.

We need a serious reality check about where our self esteem comes from. In this era of teenage girls wanting plastic surgery, Botox and breast implants, something has gone terribly wrong. This latest ‘trend’ in shifting sizes is yet another indicator that we are off track in assessing our self esteem and our value as human beings. We are creating an ever ‘sicker’ society obsessed with external beauty and not nearly concerned enough about the beauty and depth of the inner self and soul.

On top of all that, it took me a lot longer to buy my boots that day, because I had to go through two sizes that I’ve worn for 30 years to find that my feet have shrunk to my 14 year old shoe size! It’s annoying!

I proudly claim my size 8 feet! I am not feeling better because I wear a size 7 in my new boots. I think it’s silly!

Let’s be real and focus on the things in life that matter. Clothing size and shoe size should be waaaay down on that list!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cleaning the Drains

I’m big on looking for signs. I believe that our lives are completely interactive with our universe and our creator. We are constantly receiving feedback from the universe on the decisions we are making and how we are conducting our lives.

When things start to reoccur in my life, or some theme emerges in what is going on, I pay attention.

For the last 2 years, at least, I have been noticing that the drains in my bathroom sink and my shower have been draining continually slower. I have long hair, so that is probably most of the cause, although I suspect that all kinds of gunk builds up in pipes as the years go by.

I live in the country and am not on the city sewer line. That means I have a septic tank. For those of you unfamiliar with that pleasure, my sewage water is treated in a series of underground tanks and when it is appropriately purified it is released into the ground. Septic systems are a fragile environment and require special care. You seriously don’t want your septic system to get messed up. They are extremely costly to replace.

That is important to our story, because over the years I’ve been really afraid to put anything down my drains to clear them, for fear of upsetting the delicate balance in the septic tank by killing off the beneficial ‘bugs’ that process the sewage.

So, I plunge. I’ve been using the plunger regularly on my sink and my shower to try to clear the pipes. This worked for a while, and I would get better drainage for a time. Whatever was going on, however, was more serious than my plunger can handle.

I had a plumber come out once to do some work elsewhere in the house and asked him if he could ‘snake’ the shower to clear the pipe. The geniuses that built my house (another story for another day) grouted the drain cover into my expensive Italian tile shower, and the plumber couldn’t get his snake through the grates in the drain cover. He refused to try to pop the drain cover out, because he didn’t want the responsibility for breaking the tile.

I was convinced that I couldn’t put ANY type of chemical down the drains because it wouldn’t be safe for the septic tank. Did I ever ask anyone? Did I ever go looking at products to see what might be acceptable for my situation? Of course not. I simply assumed that it wasn’t possible and my drains continued to plug up.

My sink was no longer responding to plunging, and this was what finally propelled me to take a look at what I was doing, at least with regards to my drains! I realized that things weren’t ‘flowing’ properly and that I was cutting off possible solutions to the problem by assuming there was simply no solution. As a result, I had to do a lot of extra work (plunging) which was becoming less and less effective. Hmmmmm…. Very interesting.

I decided to examine my life and see where else, besides the drains, I might not be allowing things to flow, and specifically to look for places where I was holding on to things that I should be letting go of. I found several areas… some physical (like really needing to clean out my closet and let go of clothes that I no longer wear or that no longer fit) and some mental/emotional, like relationships that no longer served me and obligations that I no longer wanted to participate in. I started to work on these things and open the channels of release.

The Dead Sea in Israel is known to have no living organisms in it. (Ok, there might be one ameba-like creature, but there are no plants, no fish, etc.) The Dead Sea has inflows… from rivers and rain, but it has no outflow. There are no rivers or streams that flow out of it. It receives, but never gives… and it is dead.

Taking, holding on, never releasing is a recipe for a dead life. That kind of approach to life can create an overcrowded closet, an over booked schedule, draining relationships and many other destructive states. It can also show up as drains that won’t carry away the waste water that is no longer needed!

As I worked on these issues in my life I had an amazing idea! Next time I was in Home Depot I went to the plumbing section, looked at all the drain cleaning products and lo and behold found several that were perfectly safe for septic systems! Imagine that! Something I didn’t think was possible was right in front of me all the time. Time to release! I raced home and cleaned my two drains! Now I no longer have to brush my teeth in the kitchen sink and watch the water rise to alarming levels when I’m in the shower. A miracle? No, just learning that I need to allow things to flow and release them when it’s time for them to go. It was a powerful reminder that life is about taking in and letting go, receiving and giving, embracing the new and lovingly releasing all that no longer belongs in our life.

Let your life and love flow!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Enjoying the Day

This past weekend, I had a major victory in my quest for a more balanced life. For a person like me, who is very motivated by productivity and efficiency, goofing off does not come easily. I’m generally on task all the time. I like to learn things. I like to do things. I like to help people. I like to make a difference. Very rarely do I just do something because it’s fun. I’m working on that in my life, because I do want my life to be more relaxed and nurturing to my soul. All work and no play makes for a dull life. I try to remember that little teaching to give myself permission to indulge in what feeds my soul once in a while.

As I was out running errands and preparing for my upcoming trip to NYC I was struck by the beauty of the day. We had a really lousy summer in Seattle this year, weather wise. We didn’t get our usual allotment of sunshine. For us, that is a big deal because we don’t get a lot to begin with! We’ve all been a little sad as the fall has set in and we’ve settled in to colder, darker days filled with our customary rain. We weren't properly fortified with our sun allotment!

Our summer sun shortage made this day seem particularly spectacular! The sky was a beautiful, brilliant blue. The leaves on the trees were on fire with red, yellow and orange. The air was crisp and clean. I felt inspired and uplifted just to be out in this glory. I couldn’t resist the rare opportunity to let myself revel in the magnificence of this sunny day. I decided to take a drive along a lake. It is one of my favorite drives to take on a beautiful day. It would take me far out of my way, but I didn’t care. I felt like enjoying this glorious weather. Not only did I drive the length of the lake, but I decided to turn around and drive back the other way! I took even more time away from my ‘to do’ list, had the sun roof open and some good tunes playing. It was marvelous!

When I finally did get home, instead of heading in to pack for my trip (which was my number one priority for the day), I changed into gardening clothes, grabbed my pruning shears and went to work in my garden. I spent a wonderful hour and a half shaping various shrubs, cutting back spent perennials and eliminating dead wood from my plants. The air was sweet and refreshing. The dirt felt great on my hands when I would pull the occasional weed. I’m one of those gardeners who refuse to wear gloves. I love the feeling of dirt between my fingers! It must be my farming heritage.

I realize gardening counts as being productive, but it is very rare for me to just go do something because I feel like it, especially when other things are more pressing. I felt like I was skipping school while I was out there working in my garden!

As is usually the case, my hour long drive and my 1.5 hour gardening session did eat up a bit of my day, but a paradox soon manifested. I was so invigorated, refreshed and nourished by my goof off period, that the rest of my tasks went faster than anticipated and were much more enjoyable! It was a pleasure to do the things on my to-do list after taking time to do things felt so nourishing to do. I know I’m improving because I didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty about taking that time for myself.

I highly recommend looking for those things that make your heart sing and trying to build them into your days on a regular basis. Even a few minutes of ‘indulgence’ can make an incredible difference in our moods and in our motivation to tackle the rest of life’s responsibilities!

Go play!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Giving Something Back

I've always had a 'thing' about litter. Seeing nature desecrated by human trash always upsets me. As a child, I used to organize my friends into 'litter patrols' and we'd go around the neighborhood with a wagon and pick up all the litter. I was kind of a bossy kid, I'm afraid. I 'organized' my friends into a lot of activities, whether they wanted to do them... or not! :)

As an adult, my interest in litter control is as strong as ever.

Whenever I go to the ocean for a vacation, I always take trash bags and I spend at least a couple hours picking up litter on the beach.

On hikes, I've been known to get into some precarious situations getting the water bottles or snack rappers tossed off the trail by careless or thoughtless hikers. I take the pack it in/pack it out principle very, very seriously.

I once went wading into Lake Crescent, up by Port Angeles, WA to retrieve a discarded beer can. The water appeared to be 2 feet deep. The water in this particular lake is crystal clear, however, and the can was actually 4 feet under the surface of the water! It was winter, and I emerged from the icy water soaked to the skin! I had to make the 3+ hour drive home soaking wet and very cold. Restoring my little corner of the lake to its pristine majesty was worth each and every shiver that I experienced!

I still pick up litter. I like to set that example for other people. I've done it in Jerusalem, and I've done it in 'anytown' USA. I like to feel that I'm giving something back to a 'place' for 'welcoming me.' That is always in my heart when I'm picking up litter.

One time, I was staying in a house (for a workshop) in a very depressed and run down neighborhood in Virginia. I was there for a week. There was a lot of litter in the neighborhood and I decided that my last day there, I would spend 2 hours cleaning up the block that I was staying on. It would be my 'thank you' for being allowed to live there for a week.

I went out with my bags and started picking up trash. I worked my way down one side of the street. All the homes were old and not very well kept up, except for one. It was a meticulously groomed little house, with a beautiful flower garden. The entire yard was surrounded by a little white picket fence. As I approached this lovely little house an elderly couple came out and smiled at me. I told them they had a beautiful yard. They thanked me. Then, the old man said, "Thank you for what you are doing!" I smiled back at him and kept working.

I got a lot of 'curious' stares that day. People didn't know what to make of me, out there, picking up bottles, cans, papers, wrappers and all manner of trash. As I looked back over the areas I had cleaned up, I felt motivated and inspired to keep going.

A couple of people asked me why I was doing what I was doing. I actually really love it when that happens. I get the chance to explain. In this case, I talked about how much I appreciated being able to stay in their neighborhood while I was taking my class, and I just like to say 'thank you' in some way. I also really am bothered by litter, so it seems like a great way to merge my two goals. Some 'get it' and others look at me like I'm crazy. That's OK with me... I'm used to that! :)

I always think about the fact that I never know who I might influence by my 'crazy' behavior. We all impact each other every day... and I'd just as soon have my influence be positive whenever possible! I will never know if or how I've influenced people, but I know the chances are greater if I'm 'out there' doing things, rather than sitting alone in my house bemoaning the fate of the world!

The neighborhood looked great when I got done. I pleased the elderly people and amused several others who witnessed my work. Some might have thought it was cool. Some might have thought I was stupid. Who knows, some kid might 'adopt' my litter patrol passion and keep it up. One never knows.

Next time you are enjoying a place, give it some thought. How might you express your appreciation for the fact that this place exists... and that you are there? Picking up that empty soda can might just be the answer!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Cost of Being Stubborn

I never cease to amaze myself with my ability to 'forget' important lessons that I've learned. One would think that once we've learned something that is really helpful, we would never forget it! Think again!

In my life, I've had to give up a number of things that I really like. For example, I have a lot of food sensitivities that have required me to stop eating many things. Over the years, I have found that I can't have a lot of dairy products (cheese, milk, etc) so I have mostly eliminated those from my diet. One of the toughest losses from this dairy products 'issue' was giving up mochas and lattes from Starbucks! Coming from Seattle, this was NOT a trivial loss!! (Although my waistline has enjoyed the benefits of not partaking in those anymore!)

Wheat can also be a problem for me if I have too much of it. I get extremely fatigued, and can even have migraine headaches if I get too much over an extended period of time. For someone who LOVES bread and pasta, this has been a tough reality to absorb! With my Russian palate, I could live on bread, potatoes and tomatoes. I swear I could!

I had to give up diet soda many years ago. For me, it triggers nauseating migraine headaches instantly. Actually, any artificial sweetener has this potential, so I have to be very careful of any 'diet' or 'lo-cal' products.

I could go on, but suffice it to say, there are a lot of things that I used to eat that I no longer eat. I've given up a lot. Although I'm much healthier than I used to be, giving up so many things hasn't been easy.

I like to joke that my 'one last vice' is iced tea. I love unsweetened black iced tea (with lots of ice!) It seriously is one of the last pleasant 'treats' that I get to have. I drink it every single day.

What I have found, however, is that caffeine has a very bad affect on me if I get too much of it. It's not that I can't get to sleep (although that can happen if I have a huge amount of caffeine.) What happens to me, when I get to much caffeine in my system, is that my sleep quality suffers. I don't get good quality sleep, and I wake up feeling as though I hadn't slept at all. It's a strange phenomenon. I sleep, but I don't get rested.

I know exactly how much caffeine I can have in a day to be 'under the limit' in terms of healthy, restorative sleep. I know. I know. Yes, I know.

And yet, I get to a place where I'm sleeping good every night, feeling great every morning, and inevitably, I start to 'indulge' in a bit more tea again. I go out to lunch almost every day. I enjoy being out, seeing people, and, of course, drinking tea. I just can't quite believe how I let the tea consumption creep back up, bit by bit, and day by day, until I always end up sleeping poorly again and feeling tired every day.

It is a cycle. I am doing well. I start increasing my tea consumption a bit each day, and within a couple weeks, my sleep is messed up again. It always takes me a while to 'realize' what I've done. I cut my tea consumption back down, and within a few days, I'm sleeping like a baby again!

My question is... why the heck do I do this? If I KNOW what's good for me and I KNOW what I need to do, then why do I keep going back to the behavior that I know causes problems for me? It is indeed a mystery!

I truly don't enjoy being tired in the morning. I do not enjoy the feeling of having to drag myself out of bed. I much prefer waking up feeling great and springing out of bed with enthusiasm and energy.

I've made it a new goal to 'remain conscious' when it comes to my tea consumption. I want to observe how the slippery slope starts to take hold. I want to learn to 'nip it in the bud' when that starts to happen. I want to stop myself from engaging in self destructive behavior and then being 'amazed' that I'm 'right back where I started' again.

As frustrated as I am that I've gone through this cycle so many times, I also feel a bit excited at the moment. I feel, for the first time, like my awareness of my challenge is at an all time high. It seems like the time is right to be able to permanently solve this issue (which wreaks havoc on my productivity by the way) once and for all.

Looking at ourselves to find these sorts of self destructive behaviors is a very worthwhile endeavor. We can truly free ourselves of limiting behaviors and systems of thought. One key to making this happen is to never give up! Even if we have to start over again... and again... and again. It happens to us all, so we can leave the embarrassment by the wayside and just begin again.

Today, I'll have two iced teas with my lunch... and not a drop more! Today is the first day of the rest of my life. :)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Lorenzo's Oil

Last weekend there seemed to be a conspiracy in the cable TV world to make me cry! There were several movies on last weekend that always inspire me, and yes, they also make me cry. Of course, I can cry at a reasonably good Hallmark card commercial too! My new favorites these days are the pharmacy commercials where the helpful pharmacists assist elderly people with their medications so they don't get confused and take the wrong pills. I have a big soft spot for elderly folks, and I always have a soft spot for one person helping another!

Last weekend, one of the movies I watched was Lorenzo's Oil. If you have never seen this movie, I strongly encourage you to watch it sometime. Talk about inspiring!!

This is a true story about Augusto and Michaela Odone, who's young son, Lorenzo, is diagnosed with a dreadful and incurable disease called adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). ALD afflicts only males, and is a degenerative disease that causes immensely cruel suffering. Up until the time that Lorenzo Odone was diagnosed, there were no effective treatments for this relentless, crushing disease. The Odones were told to accept their son's inevitable death, and prepare for the horrors to come.

They simply could not accept that as their only role and they set about to investigate the disease and potential treatments on their own. The disease is rare, and so was considered an 'orphan' disease, meaning the medical community did not devote much research money or time to seeking a cure. To have a child afflicted with such a horrible disease, and know that it is not anyone's priority must be an extremely devastating experience. The Odones knew that no one was going to help their son. It was up to them.

In one discussion between Augusto and Michaela they considered how they might address their son's illness. Augusto likened their situation to relocating to live in a new country (which they had done before). He reminded Michaela that when they had relocated to a new country they had to learn everything about the landscape, culture, customs, language, food and people in order to function and thrive there. He suggested that they needed to approach Lorenzo's disease in the same way, with the same dedication and committment to becoming experts in the disease that afflicted their son. He said that Lorenzo expected it of them. They wanted to do the very best they could for their son. It was an empowering and motivating way to look at the daunting and heartbreaking task before them. They weren't given a choice about the situation they found themselves in, but they did have a choice about how they would engage with it. The choice they made was truly inspiring.

They started to research ALD through all available means. They spent countless hours reading medical research, convening conferences of doctors and researchers, and fund raising to support their efforts. The results of their tenacity and commitment to do everything possible for their son was nothing short of miraculous. They eventually figure out what is actually happening in the disease process, and are instrumental in the creation of an oil, "Lorenzo's Oil" that can stop the progression of the disease and bring immense relief to sufferers and their families. Augusto Odone was actually granted an honorary medical degree for his discoveries with regards to the disease process at work in ALD.

These two people, because they didn't just accept what they were told, changed our world forever. They have saved countless boys and their families from a horrible, cruel disease process.

It is a grand example of what is possible when persistence meets with a determined human spirit, motivated by love. Their tragedy turned in to a blessing for the entire world. We all owe them a debt of gratitude.

Honestly, if you haven't seen this movie... you need to! It will cause you to want to do your very best in every endeavor you take on! It is a triumph of inspiration!

Here are some links for more information:

New York Times Synopsis of Lorenzo's Oil

Wikipedia's article on Lorenzo's oil that gives a bit of information about ALD:'s_oil

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Leave it Better Than You Found It

I am always on the look out for ways to fill my days with meaning and positive experiences. It's more than a hobby... it's probably an obsession! :)

I like to do things that surprise people, especially strangers. I find it fun to watch people be blown away by the simplest of acts when they are not expecting them.

One of my practices, is to try to leave places 'just a little better' than I find them. One of my favorite places to do this is at Starbucks, other coffee shops or restaurants. I really don't like walking up to the condiment bars and finding a mess. It's not appealing. When you are going in for your cup of coffee, or your lunch, it is nice to go get your 'fixins' in a nice, clean place. So, when I encounter spills or messes at the condiment bars, I clean them up. If someone dumped sugar all over, I clean it up. If someone knocked straws all over the counter, I pick them up and put them where they belong. Ketchup or hot sauce puddles? Swoosh... they are gone. It takes me 30 seconds, and I whip the condiment bar into shape. Just as though I were an employee of the place. I've often wondered what employees think when they see me doing this. :)

I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that the next person who walks up to the counter, will not be met with a mess. Their experience will be a little nicer, because I took 30 seconds to clean up some messes. It's so easy, and yet it is a powerful way to be 'of service' in this world. I'm not doing it for anyone in particular... but rather for anyone and everyone who might follow me on that little part of the path that day.

It makes me feel good... and like I've made a difference in somebody's day.

Give it a try some time. I think you'll be amazed at how satisfying it is! :)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Holding on Too Tight

Fall is here. I wrote last week about the leaves, beginning to change colors and take flight from the trees that have been their home bases since last spring. The pace of that change is accelerating now. Most of the trees around my home now have lots of leaves that are making "the change." Some leaves have already come down, others aren't quite ready to let go. Over the next month or so, all the trees will release their leaves and become the bare skeletons we will see throughout the winter.

I once heard a story about a tree that seemed to have a particular challenge around the cycle of life as it pertains to deciduous trees. It seems that as all the other trees were losing their leaves, this tree just said, "No. That's not for me!" The leaves on this particular tree would change color, just like the other trees. The leaves withered and shriveled, but they stayed firmly attached to the tree. A few of the leaves would fall, but the majority stayed where they had been since they budded in the spring.

When spring came around, it was as though the new growth physically had to 'push' the old leaves off of this particular tree. As the new buds formed, and the leaves started to emerge, the old leaves finally were forced off of the tree and then made their inevitable journey to the ground.

This tree didn't allow its leaves to fall until it was forced to. For whatever reason, it didn't want to let go of its old leaves and only did so when the new leaves wouldn't take no for an answer.

How often to we behave like that tree? How often is life calling us to let go of something but we stubbornly refuse? Or how often are we encouraged to make a change in our life, but our fear paralyzes us from taking the steps we need to take? The reasons we do this are complex and varied. The bottom line, however, is that we, like this tree, often struggle, resist and refuse to do what we need to do, until we are forced (often unpleasantly) by life to do it.

Change scares us. Growth often frightens us as well. Both are natural occurrences, just like a tree losing its leaves in the fall as part of the ongoing process of renewal and rebirth.

When I think of this tree, I try to remind myself that there is no use holding on to things when their time has passed. Sometimes its tough to know when some thing's time has passed, but that is one of the challenges of living. We need to learn to tell when something in our life or some part of ourself is dying or dead. When it no longer serves us, its time to let go. Those dead leaves serve no useful purpose. They only divert our energy and attention away from living our life to the fullest.

Making way for the new makes more sense and it is what I believe life calls us to do, each and every day. The odd tree, like our 'chronic holder,' shows up to remind us of this important cycle of life and the futility of resisting what is natural and inevitable.

We have to let go of the old, dead life in order to embrace the new growth and possibility that is available to us all.

Are you hanging on to anything that really isn't serving you anymore? It might be worth doing a 'life scan' to see what might be lurking around the edges. Sometimes these things are obvious, sometimes they are more subtle. They all drain energy that could be used to create a larger, more authentic life.

Let go of those old dead leaves! Let the growth process loose in your life!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Learning to be "In Process"

I've always been a very achievement oriented person. I like to set goals and achieve them. I am a master list maker and usually have more lists going than most people could keep track of in a lifetime! I love the feeling I get when I cross something off my list. I've been known to do something that wasn't on my list and add it to the list after the fact, just for the joy of being able to cross it off! :)

This pattern of behavior has served me quite well in my life. I'm pretty persistent and productive when it comes to tackling what I want to do.

There is a way, however, in which this pattern has been problematic for me. Some things in life cannot be 'crossed off' one's to do list. They are perpetual tasks that must be done on an ongoing basis. I once heard inspirational speaker, Les Brown talk about this. He said something like, "You can't just take one shower and have that be good for your whole life! No, no, no! You can't just pull the weeds in your garden one time and expect that to suffice!"

What I have found, is that my need to have things 'done' has often made it very difficult for me to be in the 'flow' of life. Nowhere has this been more apparent to me than in my endeavors as a gardener.

I have a pretty large yard that I take care of. I'm committed to a chemical free, organic approach to taking care of my property. I only use chemicals when I absolutely have to. This makes for a LOT of work. I hand weed everything. No herbicides or preemergents for me! Between all the weeding, pruning and other work that goes along with tending the land, my work is literally never done. There is always more to do. By the time I make a 'weeding pass' through the yard, it is time to start again. This is not the way my brain likes things. I like to be DONE. I actually have had trouble feeling relaxed when I have things that are unfinished on my to do list.

One day, when I was out diligently pulling weeds along a stepping stone path, I had a lightening bolt realization. The thought process went something like this: "You are NEVER going to be done. EVER. Weeds come back. Plants grow and need to be pruned. Plants die and need to be replaced. That is LIFE. As long as you are fighting this truth, you are fighting against life itself!" Wow. Somehow, this made sense to me in a way that had previously eluded my understanding. I suddenly GOT IT!

I realized that I had to embrace being 'in process' with the garden and get satisfaction out of that process, rather than in 'getting it done.' I started to redefine what success means to me. I came to feel satisfaction in the effort itself, rather than in an ultimate, permanent result.

This transformation has been profound and it has rippled through to all the areas of my life. I have a much easier time with long term, complex projects. I get more joy out of tasks, like washing dishes, that never end. I try to be very focused in the present moment, and just be grateful for the opportunity to experience whatever it is that I'm doing. I look for the pleasantness in whatever I'm involved in.

The garden has taught me many things. I used to feel like I was in a 'battle' with the weeds, never able to keep up, never able to win. Now, I realize that it is more like a dance. I am part of the process and cycles that occur in my garden. I'm part of it, not separate from it. There is peace and satisfaction in that.

Realizing that life is a process can free us from an endless struggle of trying to get somewhere... to arrive. It's that old saying, "It's the journey, not the destination." So, so true.

Embrace the process and enjoy the journey!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Setting a Good Example

I attended the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City. In fact, I was ordained as an interfaith minister in 2005.

Attending the seminary was a really powerful experience for me. Although I was a distance learning student, I made the trek to NYC each month for 2 years to attend the classes in person. Airfare was incredibly cheap back then and I had generous friends in the city who allowed me to stay with them every month for my 'class weekend.'

Each month, we met in the same classroom at the school. It is a large room with folding chairs to accommodate the 60 or so students in attendance. The floor is carpeted and the walls are adorned with artifacts from cultures and religious traditions around the world.

We were informed of a rule on the first weekend that we were not to eat or drink in the classroom. It was explained that the carpets are not often cleaned, and spills could make it very unpleasant for everyone in the room. It made sense to me, and I observed the rules.

I was frequently extremely jet lagged when I arrived in NYC to attend class. Sometimes I came from Seattle. In this case, with school starting at 9:30am EST, I had to be up by 7am to make it to class. To my body that was 4am PST!!! Other times I would come directly from the middle east, land at 5am EST and be in class by 9:30am. I would fly all night and then go to class all day. In both cases, it was very hard to go through the morning class without my coffee!

As the months went along, I noticed that many of my classmates did not observe the rules, especially about drinking coffee. Every day in class I would see at least 5 or 6 people drinking coffee in the mornings. This started to annoy me a bit. Here I was, coming from the west coast or the other side of the world, and I was going without coffee to be observant of the rules. People who were coming from across town were enjoying their morning latte! What bothered me most was that no one on the faculty was 'correcting' the behavior of those who were breaking the rules.

As I watched all this unfolding, I started to wonder if maybe the rules had changed and I wasn't aware of it. I decided, in a rather self righteous way, that if anyone had the right to drink coffee in that room it was me! After all, I was traveling further than anyone else, often attending class after having flown all night. It made sense... right? Right! Or so I told myself.

The next time I attended class, I brazenly walked to Starbucks, got a Venti drip coffee with cream and sugar and went to school. I was super careful with my coffee cup. I never set my cup down, not even for a second. I held it in my hands to make sure that I didn't spill a drop on the carpet. I made sure that when my cup was empty, I took it directly to the trash can. I felt very vindicated. I had my coffee and I hadn't harmed the room or the floor! Then... it began.

As the day progressed, I watched the other students with their coffee. I saw one person set their cup down on the floor and proceed to kick it over with their foot when they weren't paying attention. Coffee, with cream went all over the floor. Time after time I watched people's drinks fall over, get kicked over or get bumped by other students. Over and over again I saw drinks spilling and tipping over. This happened all day long! I must have seen 6 drinks get spilled on the floor that day.

I had never seen so many drinks spill in one place at one time in all my life! I have learned to listen carefully when things like this happen. A message was being communicated to me. It was time to reflect on what I did and what I had observed.

The rule was in place to protect the carpet and to keep the environment pleasant for all of us. It wasn't randomly set up to be inconvenient. There was a valid purpose for that rule. Some people broke the rule and others did not. I finally decided to break the rule. I was very careful and 'successfully' broke the rule. Then, I was treated to a veritable feast of watching others break the rule and not be careful.

I started to think about the 'example' I was setting by breaking the rule. I tend to be rather strict with myself about rules and doing what is right. I started to wonder if any other students saw me drinking coffee and said, "Wow... if Nola is doing it, it must be OK." Maybe some of those spills throughout the day were a direct result of me breaking the rule.

I realized that people watch what I do. I think its true of everyone. We all influence each other with our behavior. Doing something often gives others permission to do it too... good... or bad.

I realized that I was being shown the possible 'ripple effect' of bad behavior. I was being called to a higher standard.

It was a pretty profound experience for me. Needless to say, I never drank coffee in that room again. I spoke to my Dean about it, just to make sure the rule hadn't changed without my knowledge. It hadn't. Drinks were still forbidden.

It no longer mattered to me what anyone else did. I needed to honor the rule because it was the rule that was given to us, and I did, in fact, agree with the reason for the rule. My actions needed to be carefully considered, because they could either validate or invalidate the idea of honoring one's word.

If we disagree with a rule, we should work to change that rule. Unless the rule or law is unethical, immoral or corrupt, we should follow that rule, or assertively work to change it. Going 'around' a legitimate rule because it inconveniences us or we don't like it, is actually passive aggressive.

We all have the power to set good examples, or poor ones. We have the ability to validate other people's bad behaviors by duplicating them. We don't have to preach or call people out (necessarily), but we can set a different example. Sometimes that is the most powerful action we can take!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Don't Give Up Too Soon

I'm amazed at our capacity as human beings to be conditioned. We sometimes learn things that help us and other times we learn things that hold us back. It is so important to look at our patterns of learning, conditioning and belief.

I had an interesting experience this past week. Years ago, I created a database system using Microsoft Access '97. The database houses all my books, music CDs, inspirational quotes, affirmations, songs, movies, jokes, etc. It was one of my final projects in graduate school when I was getting my master's degree in Spiritual Psychology. In this project I was merging my software design/programming background with my love of personal and spiritual growth resources. It was a complex and fantastic project.

When the time came to upgrade to the new version of Access, 2000, everything went smoothly. The software upgrade went off without a hitch.

When the time came to upgrade yet again, to Access, 2003, things did not go so smoothly. My database would not run with the new version of Access. I got a cryptic error message and was unable to access my data. Not good.

I was busy at the time, and decided to postpone upgrading Access. I reinstalled Access 2000, until such a time that I could figure out the incompatibilities with my database. In other words, I procrastinated and accepted that my database was incompatible with the new software.

Here we are, 4 years later and I am contemplating upgrading to Office 2007, which of course, includes Access 2007. One of my big concerns is my database. How long can I stick with Access 2000? Will it continue to work when I enter the new world of Office 2007? What about once I upgrade to Vista? I've had a lot of anxiety about this, because I have a huge amount of data in this database.

I'm not sure what possessed me this past week, but as I contemplated the coming upgrade, I decided to once again, try to upgrade to Access 2003. I wanted to see if I could find a 'back door' into my database. If I could succeed in Access 2003, I would feel more comfortable about moving on to Access 2007.

I must admit, that I was truly shocked, when I installed Access 2003 and although I received a couple of 'warnings' I was allowed to open my database normally and access all my data! Evidently, I was not the only one to experience that problem, and Microsoft, at some point, had addressed it and allowed older databases to be opened!

I had simply 'accepted' that it was incompatible and 'worked around' the incompatibility by using an older version. Eventually my work around was not going to be acceptable, and that is what prompted me to try again. I wonder how long ago this problem was fixed?

I'm reminded of the story of how elephants are trained. When they are babies, they are tethered to an enormous stake in the ground. The baby elephants struggle and struggle to break free, but the rope and stake are too strong for them to escape from. They are truly stuck there. The elephants come to know that when they have that rope around them, they cannot go further than a few feet in any direction. Interestingly enough, as the elephant grows older, the stake in the ground is replaced with a tiny wooden stake. The elephant could easily break free at any time. Yet it doesn't. It has learned to equate the rope around their neck with not being able to move. The elephant no longer tries, because it believes there is no use.

I was a bit like the elephant when it came to upgrading my version of Access, and as a result, I've lived for years with an older version of the software, and a persistent anxiety about the day my database would be obsolete!

All of this was unnecessary, because the problem, at some point, was resolved, but I stopped looking for the solution. I put it off and eventually forgot about it, all the while, living with a sub-optimal solution. Amazing.

I think it is so important for us to look at the ways we 'condition' ourselves to accept things and stop trying for something better! What we have learned, can be unlearned. We need to always remember giant elephants standing around with a small rope around their neck, draped over a railing. What keeps them there? What keeps us where we are? It's worth considering.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dream Time

Last night, I had a troubling dream. I was on some sort of driving road trip and I had some sort of problem with my car. Memories of my dreams are sometimes hazy. What I remember is that I was in some sort of minor accident and the trunk and bumper of my car were damaged. I was stranded in a little town while my car was being repaired. Before I tell you about the repair job I received, I want to say a few words about dreams in general.

There are obviously many different schools of thought on the meanings and interpretations of dreams. I have done a bit of study in this arena, because I have had vivid and often disturbing dreams throughout my life. Sometimes my dreams are so real and so upsetting that it takes me several minutes when I awaken to convince myself that it wasn't a real experience. I often have to get out of bed, walk around, look myself in the eye in the mirror and talk to myself about the fact that what I just dreamed did not happen, that I'm safe and that I don't have to deal with whatever that situation was.

What I have come to believe about dreams is that they serve two important purposes. I believe that our subconscious minds is constantly working to heal and 'work out' the things in our psyche that are problematic for us. That does not stop when we go to sleep, in fact, I believe that during sleep, this healing, purging, reconciling, cleaning up process is in full swing. In my opinion, this is true whether we remember our dreams or not. This 'processing' and 'healing' is one of the main reasons that we have dreams. I like to think that no matter what the subject matter of our dreams, or whether we remember them or not, we are doing important work to become healthier during our sleep cycle. The body is healing and restoring itself during sleep, and it makes sense to me that the same is true for our mental and emotional body.

In the past I have struggled with horrible nightmares. I'm talking really scary, violent, dreams. I can remember at one point, I was having these horrible dreams every night for over a year. I felt like I never slept because each morning I would wake up exhausted as though I had really 'lived' the dreams from that night's sleep.

I was sitting in a meeting one day, back in my software design days, and everyone was talking about their dreams from the night before. These were all super smart, high achieving people. I was amazed to hear about their wonderful dreams. They dreamed all kinds of happy, positive things. Some of them had been flying. Some of them had seen relatives that had passed on. Some of them had been to parties or really fun events. There I sat. I believe my dream the night before was about being held hostage in an old abandoned house, where I was being tortured by a faceless man. Anytime my friends or family called or came by I was threatened with a knife and I stayed silent. I was paralyzed and couldn't speak. Lovely. All my co-workers had these light, happy, wonderful dreams, and I was in hell. While I do believe there were important messages in many of these horrible dreams, it seemed to me that over the years I struggled with them that something pretty profound was getting processed and purged from my psyche. Now-a-days, I can still have disturbing dreams from time to time, but I never have them for long spells of time and usually they aren't as graphic and terrifying as those old dreams were on a regular basis.

The second purpose I believe dreams serve is to give us important messages about our lives or our inner worlds. Sometimes we can remember our dreams. Sometimes we wake up with a residual feeling or thought. It seems to me that these are worth taking a look at. Often the meanings are symbolic and metaphoric. While many schools of thought exist about dream interpretation, I like to just 'sit' with my dreams and see what message and purpose emerges for me.

In my dream the other night, it was very interesting what unfolded. My car was returned to me, 'good as new' and 'all repaired' according to the body shop that worked on it. I was shocked and upset to see that although they had repaired the trunk, they had put a new trunk cover on that had big open gaps in it. It was not a solid piece. It was rather like a picket fence, with uniform, open gaps between each slat. My jaw dropped open and I started to let the repair guy know that this wasn't acceptable. I told him I drive and travel a lot. I told him that I keep important things in the trunk all the time and that these things cannot get wet. He tried to tell me that I could buy plastic boxes to put in the trunk to protect the things I wanted to put there. I envisioned the rain destroying whatever I put in my trunk. I could already predict that the moisture would cause perpetual dampness, mold and odor in my trunk and in the car.

What was amazing, is that this guy was trying to tell me that this was an acceptable solution to my problem, and that I could and should accept this repair and find a way to live with it.

That is the point in the dream where I woke up. I was feeling upset, annoyed and like I was being taken advantage of. I 'sat' with my dream for a few minutes and asked to be shown the meaning. It was fairly obvious to me.

It was a metaphor about allowing people to treat me in ways that are really not good for me, but trying to convince me that it is acceptable. It is, just as importantly, a reminder that I sometimes do this to myself. I sometimes try to convince myself to settle for something that isn't good for me and isn't what I really need. The theme of this dream was that those around me tried to act like something was wrong with me for objecting, and in the dream, I started to doubt myself. Was I being too picky? Was it really as big a deal as I thought it was? Was I the one being unreasonable? Of course, the answer to those questions was no, but in the dream I was confused about my reaction and the reaction of those around me.

Bottom line, I believe this dream was a reminder that I need to pay close attention to what I agree to, no matter who's suggesting it: me or someone else. It is so easy to go against one's inner knowing and instincts and allow things into our lives that just aren't acceptable. Sometimes this might be the way we are treated in a business transaction or a personal relationship. Sometimes it might be a way that we are treating ourselves in response to difficult circumstances or challenges. We might settle for a suboptimal solution simply because we are tired and don't feel we can persevere to a better, more complete solution. I think this is a powerful lesson.

Next time you have a dream, look for a message. There just may be something that it is important for you to hear, and this is just the universe's way, or God's way, of getting your attention.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Come Little Leaves...

Fall is upon us here in the Pacific Northwest. As I sit here looking at out the window watching the rain fall and noticing an occasional leaf float from a tree to the ground I'm feeling nostalgic.

I have a ritual around the turning and falling of the leaves that goes back to my young childhood. My mom taught me a poem (actually an excerpt of a poem) when I was very young and every year, when the leaves start to fall, I have a ritual recitation of this poem. It's time!

Come little leaves, said the wind one day
Come over the meadow with me and play.
Put on your dresses of red and gold,
for summer is gone and the days grow cold.

Soon all the leaves heard the wind's great call
and down they came fluttering one and all.
Over the meadows they danced and flew,
singing the sweet little songs they knew.

The author of the original poem is George Cooper, and I notice that the words are a little different, and the original poem is a little longer. Here is a link to the full version:

If you have a child in your life, why don't you consider teaching them this sweet little poem? It has been a cherished memory for me for almost 40 years. I recite the poem every single year and it brings back warm memories of my mom and my childhood. :)