Friday, November 30, 2007

Cultural and Religious Prisons

I've had a couple of interesting experiences on this trip that illuminate something I find particularly disturbing about fundamentalism in any religion or rigid cultural rules. In both cases, it has something to do with eliminating one's own responsibility to make decisions, instead abdicating that responsibility to a black and white interpretation of a spiritual principal or cultural standard.

It has happened before that when I come to Jerusalem and stay in Steve's apartment, that some of his fundamentalist (my word, not Steve's) Jewish acquaintances accuse him of breaking Jewish law, by having a woman staying in his apartment with him. There is also a 'rule' prohibiting a Jew drinking alcohol with a non-Jew of the opposite sex (which of course we do every Shabbat when we have wine with dinner.)

Steve doesn't care what these people think or say, but I still find it fascinating that after all these years, and all the good that has come out of me coming here, being here and the relationship I have with Steve and Azmi, that these people would not moderate their opinions about the SIN that Steve commits by letting me stay here. I think about all the good that has come from me being here over and over again. Not only what I have gained from my friendship with Steve, and the ways that he has benefited from our friendship, but all that I've been able to contribute to others by being here. I would have never been able to be here so many times, or for so long, if I didn't have my family relationships to Steve and Azmi... and access to this apartment as my 'home base' in Jerusalem. I don't believe it would have been 'better' for anyone, or made God any happier, if I hadn't stayed here over the years. I find the very idea that God wouldn't have wanted me here to be... ludicrous.

There are some positive, good aspects to the principal that underlies this rigid and unyielding interpretation. Preventing 'improper' relations (as defined by the religion and/or culture) is a good and appropriate aspiration. The goal of preventing Jews from mixing with non-Jews in ways that could lead to marriage and/or the creation of children... I find offensive. (That is what the prohibition of drinking alcohol with members of the opposite sex who are not Jewish is aimed at.) I find that offensive in any race or religion, actually. There is something that smacks of prejudice and racism inherent in those types of prohibitions. While I understand people wanting to maintain their heritage and tradition, rules that make it against a religion to fall in love with someone who is different, simply offend me and my personal sense of equanimity and embrace of all peoples. I do not believe in the superiority or any particular race or religion. I find it offensive when any group makes themselves 'special' to the exclusion of all others. Having a 'preference' is different from making it a crime or sin for people to 'mix' with others who are not 'their kind.' That is a slippery slope that leads to very bad places for society and the world.

I'm reminded of the criticism and persecution that Jesus received for healing people on the Sabbath (and for allowing his disciples to pick corn to feed themselves on the Sabbath.) His response (Mark 2:27) was "And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." The rules are made to support us on our spiritual path, not to become a prison by which we harm ourselves or others. We are not to check our compassion at the door in order to 'follow the rules.'

If my family prohibited me from mingling with people of races different from my own, I would not hesitate to break that rule no matter what the cost. I would never deny my friends to satisfy any religious or cultural tradition, rule or boundary.

While the underlying principles might be worthwhile and appropriate, the dogma that gets built up around those principles are where the danger lives. Critical thought is a valuable asset that every human being should posses. Without it, we create our own prisons to try to keep ourselves on the straight and narrow. Living in prison is no way to live. Blindly following 'orders' or 'rules' without independent, critical thought is what leads to a lot of the problems we have in this world of ours, including wars, oppression, dehumanization of 'the other,' racism, abuse of all types and many other societal ills. It starts with simple things, like the two situations that I have experienced since my arrival.

I encourage all of us to challenge the 'rules' that have been handed to us from our cultures and religions that while well intended, create hurt and harm when we blindly adhere to them. I believe it to be part of our evolution as human and spiritual beings to learn to evaluate more critically everything we are taught. We can honor the underlying principles and lose the dogmatic implementation that creates division and bad feelings. Black and white rules rarely are broad enough to encompass the complex reality that we find ourselves living in today's world. To free ourselves from self created prisons we must utilize the faculty of thought bestowed upon us by our creator.

Salam-Shalom-Peace from Jerusalem. Shabbot Shalom.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Two Man Revolution Continues

If you have followed my travels here before, you will already know about my friends Steve and Azmi, who I refer to as a "Two Man Revolution." Steve is my Jewish friend who lives in Jerusalem. Azmi is an Arab Muslim from a northern village. Steve adopted Azmi as a son 8 years ago, and Azmi has lived with him ever since. They have a father and son relationship, and even now that Azmi is married with children of his own, he still stays with Steve part time, and is always available to him. Azmi helped Steve through his health crisis, including several surgeries. Azmi is Steve's only form of transportation (he is in a wheelchair). Steve has helped Azmi establish his law practice in Jerusalem. They truly function as a father/son relationship. I still believe a book needs to be written about them! Perhaps I'll write it! :)

Many months ago, Steve found out that he qualified for government assistance to get a car for use by a caregiver to take him to and from medical appointments. The car, in this case, would be driven by Azmi. Steve would get the car, with Azmi as the designated driver. Azmi filled out all the paperwork and the two went through a series of interviews with government representatives and social workers. The first two people that interviewed Steve and Azmi said everything was in order and that they would make a favorable recommendation that this request be approved.

A lot of time passed, and still no car was authorized. One day, Steve received another call to have another interview. The woman who arrived to do the interview checked all the same things as before... were Azmi's things in his room? Was Azmi's address on his identity card the same as Steve's, etc. Finally, the woman said, "I'm troubled by your relationship." She seemed particularly focused on the fact that Azmi was an Arab. She simply couldn't believe that an Arab and a Jew were sharing an apartment. It simply isn't done. It seems to have 'suspended' Steve's application. They don't know what's going to happen.

It is yet another example of a troubled paradigm. It simply isn't done, therefore there must be something shady going on. It is not to be believed, because Arabs and Jews simply don't voluntarily share their lives or their space. A sad reflection of how mindsets get 'set' and are difficult (although not impossible) to change.

I'm serious about writing the book. I just may do it! In the mean time, eventually I will republish some of my travel logs that detail the remarkable journey of these two men, and how they have transformed many who have encountered them with their special connection. It is truly an inspiring story that shows the power of people to transform each other and those around them. Opinions shift. Eyes open. Reality shines through and can be faced.

The way these two have found to be family is remarkable. In the beginning, some subjects were simply not discussed because of the danger of big arguments and potentially differing opinions. As trust and bonds developed, more and more got brought into the light, and things were never the same. There is model for transformation present in what went on with these two men. True, these two men started out as good men, with good hearts and very open minds. Reality, however, had influenced each of them, in many ways they were unaware of. Their brush with each other really opened up their worlds and the worlds of many people in their inner circles.

I have been a witness to the unfolding of this special family relationship and am honored to be considered a part of the family unit. One time Azmi referred to the three of us as 'a variety pack: A Jew, a Muslim and a Christian.' I don't heavily identify myself as purely or exclusively Christian, but I did like the image.

I guess the point of my story today is that the impossible is sometimes possible. Peace between Jews and Arabs is absolutely possible. It is 'simple' in fact, but not 'easy' to achieve. These two set a perfect example everyday, that when we get past what separates us, face reality and refuse to be part of anything that oppresses or abuses another person (or group of people)... that peace is not only possible... it is inevitable.

Salam, Shalom, Peace... from Jerusalem.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

On the Road Again...

Greetings from the lovely Newark Airport. Here I sit, on a really long layover before my flight to Tel Aviv. I've been up since 4:30 this morning and I certainly feel it!

I have another 2.5 hours before departure and am spending the time catching up on email and phone correspondence. I've already run the battery down on my Zune... (MP3 player) and am sitting glued to a plug so that my laptop and phone batteries can recharge. Ahhh.... technology!

As I'm sitting here working, I'm reminded of a strange human phenomenon - the tendency of people to talk EXTREMELY LOUDLY on their cell phones in public places. What is up with that? I have two gentlemen sitting near me in the business center of the lounge I'm waiting in. They each have had lengthy cell phone calls which I've heard every word of, albeit in a language not my own. I was very bothered by their conversations and then I realized I could plug my headphones into my laptop and listen to music to drown them out. Score! As soon as I got set up with that, a 3rd person joined them and they decided to have a conference call! Now they have a screaming person coming over the speaker phone, and all three of them are yelling back. It is making it through the reasonably set volume level of my music.

Common courtesy? Where has it gone? Being thoughtful and considerate of other people seems to be something missing all too often in our society. A sense of entitlement seems to be of epidemic proportions. Entitlement to one's own comfort, one's own convenience, to meeting ones needs, no matter how that might impact those nearby.

I want to encourage us all to look at ourselves to patrol for this sort of entitled behavior. Our comfort is not more important than everyone else's. Our needs are no more (and no less) important than the needs of others. Peace on our planet actually begins with a basic level of respect for the needs and rights of others. If we can't speak more softly on our cell phones, we haven't got a hope in heck of achieving a more peaceful planet!

Signing off from Newark, NJ... next stop Jerusalem!!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Looking for Signs

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm off to the Middle East tomorrow! I wanted to share something pretty interesting about my decision making process with regards to this trip.

I've been really busy for the past few months and I have traveled a great deal. There have been moments, in preparing for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and this 3 week trip, where I have considered cancelling or postponing my trip to the Middle East. I was feeling extremely overwhelmed by all that I had to get done.

Last week, there was a day when I almost pulled the plug on the trip. I was close to saying, "I just can't go." That very day, my 'daily horoscope' (that gets delivered via email) had the following to say:

Your Horoscope for NOVEMBER 23, 2007

Today is likely to reflect a strong desire within you to obtain certain knowledge. There is something you need to know, nola, something that might empower you to do something you've always wanted to do. Therefore you might want to spend as much of your day as possible doing research in order to obtain this piece of information. You might also think of travel, perhaps traveling to spiritually oriented places such as Egypt, Israel, India, or the British Isles.

I'm not saying that I plan my life around my horoscope. :) I do, however, look for signs from the Universe/God when I am trying to make decisions for myself. This seemed to be a pretty clear indication that I was meant to go, at this time, to the Middle East. I am going to Israel/Palestine. Icidentally, I've been to all the places mentioned in that list. I find that intriguing as well.

I believe that God and the Universe speaks to us in infinite ways. We just need to be open to the guidance that is coming our way. I still don't know 'why' I'm going to the Middle East. I have never known, for the 20+ times I've been there. I do trust, however, that I'm supposed to go... and I don't really need to know why!

Signing off from Seattle...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Middle East... Here I come....

Just a quick note today. I'm preparing to head out to Israel and Palestine for 3 weeks. My blog will probably change its nature a bit in the coming weeks. I will be spending time in a place that I love very much, with people who are very special to me. As we all know, it is a troubled region, with complex issues that affect the lives of people living there, and people all over the planet.

I will be doing a bit of a journal of what I experience and what I observe when I'm there. I've been to this area over 20 times in the last 9 years. The exact count escapes me, but it is something like 24 times. Obviously I have some connection to this area of the planet. I've felt it from the first time I set foot there in 1998.

Friends and family always express concern when I travel to this region of the world. I appreciate everyone's concern... and yet I must say that I feel absolutely no fear when I am there. It feels like home to me there. I know I'm supposed to be there. No matter what.

I have friends who live in this region of the world every single moment of every single day. I'm no different than any of the people who live in this area every day. I don't deserve special 'safety' just because I'm me... or because I'm an American. I don't go looking for trouble, but I also don't feel that I deserve to be 'safer' than anyone else on the planet.

What I know is that I am supposed to spend this time in the middle east. It is part of my 'purpose' on this earth.

And... it's not as 'unsafe' as people might think. While there are real dangers in this world, often our media sensationalizes things for dramatic affect. Bad things happen everywhere in the world.

It behooves us to look for the causes of these 'bad things' instead of just trying to make sure that they can never hurt us... on our turf. That is one of the problems with the world at the moment. Too much focus on protection one's own... and not enough emphasis on what is really happening and how to address it.

Stay tuned... I'll be chronicalling my journey in Israel and Palestine for the next few weeks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Path Choice 101

Despite all my best efforts I had somehow taken a wrong turn. That’s usually how it happens. How many of us deliberately try to make mistakes? We usually choose a direction or course of action because it looks or feels right. We think we are doing what is best. Sometimes, however, the path we choose turns into a perilous and painful journey. Yet… even in wrong choices… there are always lessons!

A few years ago, I was hiking into the volcanic crater of Haleakala on the Hawaiian island of Maui. As I was hiking down 1600 feet into the crater I was virtually intoxicated by the spiritual energy I felt flowing through me. It is an amazing and magical place.

My goal was to reach the rim of a crimson colored cinder cone. I wanted to walk the path around the rim of the cone, gaze into its center and make an offering to Pele, the Hawaiian volcano Godess of fire. She is described in ancient Hawaiian chants as “She who shapes the sacred land.”

The trail I was on came to choice point. The sign showed the general direction I was to follow for the last half mile to reach the cinder cone. I quickly followed the boot prints in the cinder path, without really studying the options before me. Other people had gone this way. This must be right.

About 5 minutes later it was becoming obvious I was no longer on a deliberate hiking trail. I was descending almost straight down the side of a steep hill. The path was made of nothing but cinders, about the consistency of course sand. Each step I took ended up being a 2 – 4 foot slide straight down. Hmmm… I was on the slippery slope. It wasn’t taking too much effort in the moment. I was making fast progress towards the cone, moving downward quickly. I could, however, feel muscles working that usually don’t work hard on a daily basis and I knew that a few days hence I was going to be in pain! Injury was also a distinct possibility, since I was pretty much out of control on each of these “slide-steps.” I had to be as careful as I possible could to avoid twisting a knee or ankle or tumbling down the hillside altogether.

Suddenly I could see the ‘right’ path clearly. It was far off to my left, emerging from behind a hill that had blocked it from my view. A gentle descending path – much easier walking than this downhill course I was involved in. How did this happen? I realized that I missed an opportunity to make a better choice. I had been in a bit of a hurry when I barreled down the hillside. I hadn’t studied the path before me. I simply went where I saw others had gone. Not really the best way to choose one’s life course! My path was shorter and faster than ‘the true path’ but it had been a bit dangerous, difficult and destructive. Short cuts don’t generally work. There is a price to pay for cutting corners.

Correcting my error at that point was not an option. I had to continue the difficult path until it intersected with the ‘right’ path. I had to move through my mistake. I couldn’t undo it. I felt twinges of sadness with each step I took. Hikers are always supposed to stay on the trail so as not to destroy fragile ecosystems. I’m ultra conscientious about this rule. I would never deliberately break it. Yet, here I was off the trail and I knew that I was being destructive with each step I took. Wrong choices often cause pain and destruction to ourselves and to those around us.

Sometimes you can turn around and reverse the error. Other times you must press on through the course until you can get yourself back on track. As I realized I was going to be spared the near impossible task of climbing back up the loose and shifting hillside, I saw once again that as we learn our lessons Spirit is merciful and will show us a better option. It’s all about awareness, being able to forgive oneself for our mistakes, and knowing that our times of being off track are opportunities for learning and growth. When we come from that place Spirit can move in us and show us the way.

I made my pilgrimage around the edge of the cinder cone and made my offering of gratitude to Pele. I asked that she grant all beings the ability to withstand and thrive through the times of fire and purification that come to each of us in our lives and to us collectively on the planet.

Then, I ascended out of the crater… just a bit wiser than I had been before. That’s what it’s all about. Happy trails!


Reflections on Gratitude

On this eve before Thanksgiving, I find myself reflecting on gratitude. I feel very grateful for the blessings that I have in my life. I live in a state of abundance, especially when compared to most people on the planet. We, as Americans, enjoy so many luxeries and comforts that most people in the world could never even dream of.

As I think back on the early years of my adult life I remember being so broke that I would need to dig through my sofa cushions for money to buy things at the end of each pay period. My Friday nights back then were as follows: A good friend would come over (he was broke too) and we'd cook a 69 cent frozen pizza, make a 2 quart pitcher of apple juice (frozen), watch a rented movie and work on a jigsaw puzzle. Big thrills! It was fun, actually. A simpler time... to be sure.

My brother was sharing tonight that in his first apartment he had a $20 a week food budget. He would go to two different stores each week and buy the exact same thing... a package of 8 hot dogs, a can of tuna, etc. There was no room for error if he was going to get the food he needed in order to survive. As we sat feasting on take out Chinese food, we remembered those 'leaner' days when things were a bit different. Those days had their charm and appeal, but I, for one, am greatful to not eat so much Top Ramen and frozen pizza!

I think it is extremely important to be thankful for what we have and focus more on our blessings than on what we lack. It is human nature to focus on what we don't have and the problems that plague us. It is a universal law, however, that what we focus on will expand and magnify. When we focus on being thankful for what we have, we draw more of what we want to ourselves.

If we focus on our problems and what we lack, we create more of the same. We get more of what we don't want, because we place our attention on it.

Back when I was digging for coins in my sofa cushions, I was doing affirmations about abundance and plenty. I enjoyed my frozen pizzas and apple juice to the fullest. I was visualizing a day when I would no longer have to struggle and strain to make ends meet. That has materialized, but I'm not sure it would have if I'd been bitter about my situation back then. I simply accepted what was... and visualized a different future.

As you move through this holiday season, remember to be greatful for all that you have in your life. Focus on what you want to attract more of. Remember that no matter what your problem or challenge, there are others in this world who have much larger problems facing them. Keep it in perspective.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Clearing the Trail

On a trip to Sedona Arizona a few years ago, I had an experience that showed me the difference a few days can make. I arrived in Sedona in the midst of a storm. It took a few days to pass completely.

Most guests at the resort I was staying in were a bit disgruntled by the cold temperatures and constant rain. I thought it was awesome! It’s not something you get to see every day in Sedona. The creek that runs through Boynton Canyon is almost always dry. During the storm, it was a thundering river.

Waterfalls, which usually don’t exist, cascaded over the limestone and red rock cliffs in a stunning show. I felt honored to witness the beauty of this rare event. Hiking the five miles from the resort to the end of the box canyon and back is always a treat for me. But on this particular trip, my daily hike took on new and special meaning.

The first clear day after the storm I hiked the canyon trail. It became obvious that I was the first person to hike the trail since the storm had moved through. There was a lot of debris on the trail.

Hiking etiquette dictates that you kick away stones and pieces of wood that have fallen onto the trail. It’s a courteous way to try and keep people from inadvertently twisting an ankle by stepping on something unexpected. I could see that if I were going to take that responsibility seriously, I might be hiking the trail for a long time that day.

There were limbs down everywhere. The storm had brought wind, rain and freezing temperatures which had coated many trees with ice. This had caused the breakage of many limbs. Some of the pieces on the trail were so big I could barely move them.

In a few places large sections of shrubs had broken off and rendered the trail impassible. As I worked diligently to clear each obstacle and potential hiking hazard, I felt a sense of satisfaction: I was doing something that would be of service to all the hikers that would follow me up the trail that day and for some time to come.

The best thing was that no one would ever know I had been the one to clear the path. It felt like the purest kind of service. Service performed with love… and simple enjoyment of the effort… with no thought of recognition and reward.

The entire hike, as I walked and worked to clear the path, I thought about my motivations for helping others and how often this level of ‘purity of intent’ was really present in my efforts.

It was a deep and wonderful reflection. One of my favorite quotes, from Ralph Waldo Emerson, came to mind: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

I realized that some hikers might not have been willing or able to do the clearing work that I did that day. They might have turned back and missed the marvelous experience of reaching the top of the box canyon trail – which is quite spectacular. I felt a deep sense of accomplishment that I had made the way clear for others to enjoy this sacred experience. No hike has ever been more satisfying!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Keeping Vision Clear

On one of my past trips to the Middle East, I had a conversation with a dear friend of mine who is a peace and social justice activist. She spends her days in Israel and Palestine in a variety of peace-related activities. Her grief and frustration over the situation was palpable. Although she works tirelessly each day and is the most committed person I know, she feels useless and ineffective at times. She summed it up for me by saying, “I’ve lost my clarity of vision. It’s like I can’t see anymore. Nothing is clear. I need to have my vision cleared and restored or I won’t be able to continue my work.”

It is true for all of us, no matter what situations we face in our lives. The perspective we hold is all important. How clearly we see a situation can make all the difference.

Long ago I started a simple practice when leading spiritual pilgrimage tours. Each morning when I board the tour bus, I clean my sunglasses with a special cloth and spray. I also offer to clean the glasses of the tour participants seated near me on the tour bus.

The response is always the same. When the person puts the clean glasses on, there is always an exclamation of shock about ‘how different everything looks!’ People are always surprised that such a quick and simple act of cleaning their lenses changes their vision so dramatically.

For my part, I am always surprised at how dirty the glasses are. Cleaning one’s glasses doesn’t take a long time and yet most people don’t do it very often. It is a great reminder of how distorted our perspective sometimes must get before we realize how off track we actually are and take corrective action.

I rarely cleaned my sunglasses before I adopted this daily ritual as part of my spiritual practice. Whenever I clean my glasses, I remind myself that I’m ‘adjusting my perspective’ and eliminating the distortions in my own vision. I use it as an outward sign of my inward commitment to do the same with my ‘inner’ vision.

When I clean someone else’s glasses, I offer the experience of looking at life and the world free of distortions and distractions. My hope is that this powerful metaphor sinks deeply into mindfulness and ripples outward into life.

So, have you cleaned your glasses lately? How about your sunglasses? The mirrors in your home? Maybe its time for a ‘lens check’ inside and out!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Amazing Grace

Movies are a big part of my life. I watch a lot of them. I'm inspired and uplifted by them.

Once in a rare while, a movie comes a long that makes a particularly special impact on me. Such is the case with Amazing Grace, which came out on DVD on Tuesday, November 13, 2007. I've impatiently waited for this release since the day I saw the film in the theatre. In the week before it's release I had even taken to watching the trailer on the internet over and over again.

Amazing Grace is the story of William Wilburforce, who essentially was responsible for ending the slave trade in Britain in the early 1800s. It is an inspiring and uplifting story that demonstrates the power of one person to change the world, through determination, perseverance and unwavering conviction.

Wilberforce was a great man of peace. He was haunted by injustice and cruelty. He felt God had given him two great tasks - "suppression of the slave trade" and "the reformation of society." He was friends with the man who wrote the great hymn, Amazing Grace. John Newton, who wrote the hymn, had been a slave ship captain for 20years, had a spiritual awakening, recognized the enormous error of his ways, and became a simple man of God. Newton had a powerful impact on Wilberforce.

In addition to ending the slave trade, he also started Britain's first "Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals."

He made many amazing contributions to the betterment of our world. This did not come without enormous personal suffering for Wilberforce. He was haunted by the horrible suffering and injustice that he saw in the world, and for what he perceived as his own failure at being able to stop them. His health suffered and he was ridiculed and lied about as a result of his stand on slavery. Wilberforce kept working, no matter what obstacles presented themselves. He got discouraged, frustrated and angry, but he never gave up on the way things could be. Never.

This is a must see movie that I hope encourages all who watch it to reflect on how they might make their unique contribution to the world. Not all of us will make the type of immense contributions that Wilberforce accomplished, but we can all do what is ours to do.

I'm giving away many copies of this movie. Wilberforce is one of my heroes. I can't wait to return to London some day and pay my respects to him in Westminster Abbey, where Wilberforce is buried. We owe him so much!

Friday, November 16, 2007

So Sorry to Bother You...

I’m a big believer in common courtesy and being considerate of other people’s feelings. Rude and selfish behavior is one of my pet peeves. It just isn’t that hard to think about how my actions affect other people and try to modify them accordingly. There don’t seem to be enough people who try to do this in today’s world, in my humble opinion.

I think that I, however, sometimes go a little too far in my efforts to make other people comfortable. I know I’m not the only one who suffers from this particular affliction. I bend over backwards to not cause others even the slightest inconvenience, and often suffer a bit as a result. There is one particular experience I’ve had repeatedly that demonstrates to me that I need to moderate my behavior in this regard.

I love the window seat on airplanes. Always have, always will. I love to be able to look out the window and see what I’m flying over. I like to lean against the wall of the airplane when I decide it’s time to take a snooze. I’m very comfortable in that spot, with one exception. I really don’t like to ask the people next to me to let me out when I need to go to the rest room! I hate the thought of disturbing other people. Actually, I don’t get up very often at all. I don’t need to stretch or move. The only time I must get up is to make the occasional trip to the restroom. Yet, at times I have suffered mightily, because the person next to me is sleeping, or has their laptop out, or just looks very comfortable. I don’t feel OK about asking them to move, just so I can go the restroom! It because apparent to me that I have an irrational discomfort of asking people to do this small thing for me. I think it is related to a lot of complex internal psychology, but the bottom line is I believe other people’s comfort is always more important than my own.

While that may sound admirable, I don’t believe it’s healthy. I think there needs to be a balance between feeling like its ok for me to have needs and wants and being respectful of other people’s comfort.

The truth is most people on airplanes don’t mind getting up to let others out of their seats. It is an expected part of air travel. They don’t take it personally, and most don’t think less of the person in the window seat for having need of a biological break, especially on the 5 or 6 hour flights that I commonly find myself on.

It is some sort of irrational desire on my part to be the perfect seat mate and to have no needs or wants that might inconvenience anyone else in the slightest. I realize how absurd this is! Even with the awareness, though, it is a hard pattern for me to break. Since I became aware of this pattern, I have chosen to ‘engage’ with it by always getting up at least once per flight. It is my ‘practice’ at asking for another’s help in meeting a need that I have. It still isn’t comfortable, but it is no longer excruciating. I have even awakened someone when the situation warranted it. It is getting easier for me to take care of myself, and realize that I’m not being uncaring or thoughtless when I do.

We all have the right to have needs and wants as part of our human experience. We also have the right to ask others to help us, when they can, to meet those needs. There is no shame or weakness in doing so. In fact, people are often delighted to help us. It makes them feel good to do something kind for another person. Finding that line between concern for other and concern for self is a process we all must participate in. We don’t want to be too far off center in either direction.

Balance is good!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Assumption Penalty

I had the opportunity recently to attend a party to celebrate one of my friend’s 20th anniversary running her own business. It is quite an accomplishment and I was honored to help her mark this amazing milestone.

I wanted to give her a gift to commemorate her achievement, and settled on a gift card for one of my favorite Seattle restaurants, Anthony’s Homeport. This is always a great choice because there are several locations and people have a lot of options for how to use their gift.

I also wanted to give her a bottle of one of my favorite wines, Far Niente Chardonnay. This is where the story gets interesting. For years I have purchased wine at a particular grocery store with a great selection and a knowledgeable staff. A little over a year ago, I heard that this chain (Larry’s Markets) was going out of business. There were 3 stores in my local area and all of them were to close. One day I was having some auto repair work done near one of the outlets and noticed their ‘going out of business’ signs. I was sad, because it was a great store, and the wine selection was unequalled in any other store in my area.

As I searched for a place to buy this particular bottle of wine for my friend’s gift, I went from one store to another with no success. The selections weren’t extensive, and this is a fairly nice wine. I finally ended up going out of my way to a very good wine shop and found what I was looking for. It took a lot longer than I had planned because I’d been to 3 other stores before I finally went to the specialty shop (which was quite a distance out of my way).

I went to the party and had a marvelous time. It was really a pleasure to watch my friend basking in the glow of her friends’ support and admiration. She was delighted with the gifts I had brought for her. We talked a bit about the wine, and
I told her how much trouble I had locating it. The first question she asked was, “Did you get it at Larry’s Market?” I said, “Larry’s closed.” She then told me that they had closed 2 of the stores, but not the store in one of the towns closest to where I live! I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! I drive by that location almost every single day! I had simply assumed that it had closed with the other two locations and I never even glance over there anymore. I ‘heard’ it was closing, saw one of the other locations actually closing, and assumed that my branch had closed as well. It truly amazes me, because just a few days before the party I was shopping at a drug store that shares the same parking lot with this particular Larry’s market. I assumed Larry’s was closed and therefore it didn’t exist for me! I was within 20 yards of the front door of the store, and it simply was invisible as far as I was concerned.

I think we experience this phenomenon quite frequently in life. We make an assumption about whether something is or isn’t true, is or is not possible, is or is not available to us and we operate from those assumptions, often in the face of a glaringly different reality! I believed Larry’s was closed… and so I created a reality where it did not exist, even though I drive by it four or five times a week. Astounding!

I’m reminded of the story that is often told about how elephants are trained to not run away from their keepers. It is said that the trainer will attach a strong rope to the baby elephant’s harness and then attach the rope to a stake that is firmly planted in the ground. The baby elephant pulls and pulls on the rope and stake to try to venture beyond its tether, but to no avail. The combination of the stake and the rope is far stronger than the baby elephant. The elephant continues to struggle and fight against its physical restraint until it learns that it is futile. The frequency of its attempts to break away gets further and further apart. Finally, it no longer struggles. The baby elephant accepts its situation and no longer tries to move further than the rope allows. From that point on, all that is necessary to keep an elephant from walking away is to attach a small rope to its harness, and drape it over a fence or around a stick. The elephant has learned that rope=confinement. It doesn’t try to walk away, even though it is actually not restrained at all. Even if it were tethered to the same type of stake used for training a baby, a full grown elephant could easily pull the stake out of the ground and go on its merry way. It has accepted the reality of being confined, based on past experience, even though its current reality is completely different! Amazing!

We do this too. Our assumptions, often based on past history, or the opinions of others, often becomes our reality, even when it is completely inaccurate. We imprison ourselves with our beliefs and our assumptions.

I could have gone to a wine shop that was literally right next door to one of my other errands that day I was picking the gift for my friend. Instead I spent an extra hour running around searching for something that was essentially right in front of my nose! I was just like the full grown elephant, standing there with a small piece of rope hanging from my harness, when I could have simply walked away with ease and comfort.

This pattern is well worth looking at in our life experiences. We often have far more options than we think we do. We screen and filter out things that don’t fit our version of reality. It might be time for a bracing reality check! Whose reality do we believe in? I know I, for one, don’t want to be a prisoner any longer! It’s time to strike a blow for freedom!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Clear Expectations

The realm of human communications can be quite complicated. We have all experienced conflict and difficulties in our relationships with other people. Communicating clearly is not as easy as we would like for it to be.

I've noticed that one problematic pattern is not communicating clearly and directly what our needs, wants and expectations are in relationship. Sometimes I think we want people to just 'know' what we want and need. There seems to be a deep yearning to be 'understood' that we all share. It shows up, sometimes, as an unrealistic expectation that those close to us will read our minds and meet our needs and expectations without our having to ask.

This is a dangerous way to approach life. We are left feeling frustrated and unfulfilled much of the time, because most people are not mind readers!

Authors Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson gave a great example of this in their classic work (The One Minute Manager) on how to be an effective manager. They encouraged us to realize that we will achieve better results if we set clear expectations about what we are looking for in the actions of another person. If we don't set clear expectations, he suggested that it was a bit like asking someone to bowl with a curtain between them and the pins. They would need to hurl the ball down the bowling alley, but they would not know how many pins, or which pins they knocked down as they bowled. On the first attempt, they might knock down a few bowling pins, but when it came time to try to knock down the remaining pins, the bowler would have no idea what to aim for. How much sense does that make? None what-so-ever.

It makes about as much sense to expect those in relationship with us to know what we want and need without giving them that information. When we ask them to read our minds, we are asking them to bowl blind. This is highly unlikely to yield a good result in our relationships.

Communicating honestly and clearly about what we want, need and hope for in relationship is key to having a healthy and balanced relationship. It works the same in all forms of relationship. Communicating clearly and directly with the person we are relating to increases our chances of getting what we seek.

This is simple, but not always easy to do. The first step is to cultivate awareness of how often we avoid expressing our wants and needs clearly and directly to those around us. Then, it requires assertiveness and a certain amount of self esteem so that we believe we deserve to have a good relationship that meets our needs. Finally, it requires practice.

Don't ask people in your life to 'bowl blind.' Practice clear and honest communication and watch your life improve!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

My Favorite Holiday Movies

Tis' the season! I really love the holiday season! I enjoy listening to Christmas music and I especially look forward to watching all my favorite Christmas shows and movies. I thought I'd share a list of the movies and shows that are part of my holiday season... each and every year. I think ritual and tradition is very important in the grand scheme of life. Watching these movies and shows every year puts me in the holiday spirit, and because so many of them have powerful, life affirming messages, they are a blessing every time they are viewed.

It's a Wonderful Life - My all time favorite movie! The story of George Bailey, who experiences a crisis that leaves him feeling that his life has been a failure only to come to realize the actual impact that his life has had on the world around him. Inspiring, heartwarming and thought provoking! This is always one of my first holiday movies!

The Homecoming - The second movie (after Spencer's Mountain) based on Earl Hamner's autobiographical writings. The Homecoming was the inspiration for the TV series, The Waltons. The story depicted in this movie occurs on Christmas Eve, hence the holiday connection.

Miracle on 34th Street - The movie that PROVES that Santa Claus does exist! I love the original, black and white film from 1947 featuring Maureen O'Hara and Natalie Wood. This charming story tells of a single mother and her daughter who encounter Kris Kringle, and have their faith in life, love, Christmas AND Santa Claus restored all at once!

A Christmas Carol w/Reginald Owen - There are many versions of this Dickens classic and I actually like several of them. This is the 1938 version starring Reginald Owen.

Scrooge w/Alastair Sim - I also like the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim. It was originally released as Scrooge and later in the US as A Christmas Carol.

Christmas in Connecticut - I actually prefer the 1992 TV remake of this classic starring Dianne Carroll. Very funny! A heartwarming and entertaining story.

My Animated Favorites
No holiday season would be complete without these animated classics. All of them are available on

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Rudolph the Red-Noses Reindeer

Santa Claus is Coming To Town

Frosty the Snowman

A Charlie Brown Christmas

I'm grateful for the chance to write this blog, because in doing so, I just updated all my copies of these classics to DVD. I still had most of them on VHS tape, believe it or not.

Enjoy... and Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 12, 2007

An Encouraging New Development

It's about time! That's what I have to say about it. I'm so excited to see that some retailers are starting to embrace the idea of reusable shopping bags! I've been shopping at a food co-op for many years, and have been using reusable canvas bags for my groceries ever since. Within the last couple years, the co-op I belong to (Puget Consumers Co-Op ) introduced square polypropylene bags that are super easy to pack groceries into and to carry. They are awesome. Here is a link to the website for the company that makes Earthwise Reusable Bags

Until recently, the reusable bags were really only common in businesses with a green emphasis, such as my co-op.

Despite my best efforts, I still end up with huge piles of plastic bags in my cupboards and closets. Yes, some of them can be recycled, but some of them can't. I've always been concerned about the environment and this issue is one that bothers me most.

I was delighted when I was in Bed, Bath & Beyond recently, to see that they were selling giant Reusable bags for 99 cents! Their items tend to be bulky, so their plastic bags are HUGE! I bought 2 of the bags and plan to use them every time I shop there (which is frequently, especially during the holiday season). I was thrilled with their decision to start selling these bags and encouraging their use.

This morning, on television, I saw a commercial for Fred Meyer. They were promoting use of their new reusable bags, which are similar to the ones sold by my Co-Op and by Bed, Bath & Beyond.

I'm extremely encouraged. Perhaps this movement will catch on and we will see a huge reduction in the number of plastic bags used in retail stores throughout this country.

These bags would make a great holiday gift! I have a nice set of about 10 bags that I take with me whenever I grocery shop. Think about how many bags that saves over the course of one year!

It is an easy thing that we can all do to reduce our impact on the planet and the environment. So keep a look out for these wonderful bags and pick yourself up a few. While you're at it, pick up a few for your best friends as well!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Perseverance Pays

I'm not sure where we ever got the idea that things should come easy in life. It's true that some times people do 'luck' into great success. That can't be denied. Far more often, however, success comes from hard work and perseverance. Two of my favorite quotes from Thomas Edison are:

“Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration!” and

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

So often we give up on things because it doesn't come easily. We assume the difficulty means that 'it wasn't meant to be.' It is probably one of the biggest mistakes in life.

I was recently reading about the history of the Kentucky Fried Chicken empire. I know there are issues of controversy surrounding their treatment of chickens, etc. These are important issues and are a sign of the times in terms of how we live in this new modern age. Setting aside those issues for a moment, I want to focus on the origins of this business.

Harland Sanders (the man who would become 'the colonel') was operating a gas station in the midst of the depression, when he got the idea to put his cooking skills to work to feed hungry travelers. He actually started feeding people at his own dining room table. He had learned to cook as a very young man, when his father was killed and at age 6 he took over most of the cooking responsibilities for his family.

He was 40 years old when he started serving meals at his gas station in 1930. He worked on the chicken recipe, and adopted the use of the pressure cooker when it was introduced in 1939. He pioneered the idea of complete 'meal replacement' which was revolutionary at the time.

He begins trying to sell franchises for the KFC chicken recipe in 1952. He sets up his first franchise in Utah, with a handshake deal to receive 5 cents for each piece of chicken sold!

In 1955 Sanders sells the original gas station that he owned at the same time that he received his first social security check from the government. He is almost completely broke at this point in his life. This is 25 years after he started working on his 'chicken' idea!!

It is 1960 before he finally starts to see the fruits of his labor! He has 190 franchisees and 400 restaurants in operation by this time.

By 1964, there are 600 restaurants open and the business is on its way to world wide success. Colonel Sanders sells his interest in the company for $2,000,000. (Which would be about $10 million dollars if adjusted for inflation).

It took 30 years for the 'idea' to become a financial success for Harland Sanders. He was 74 years old when he finally saw the benefits of his many years of hard work and perseverance.

I find tremendous encouragement and inspiration in stories like this one. So many of us expect things to just happen to us. Or, we set out with a goal and start to hit the bumps in the road and feel defeated. We give up long before any positive results could materialize.

Regardless of what we think of fried chicken or KFC, we can all take a lesson from the Colonel and Winston Churchill who said, "Never, never, never, never give up!"

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Spreading Good Cheer

The holiday season is upon us once again. I'm actually getting in the mood quite early this year because my travel schedule necessitates it. I've already started my shopping and preparations. I've even started to listen to Christmas music and watch all of my favorite Christmas movies!

I was in Bed, Bath and Beyond the other day, picking up some holiday goodies and I remembered a sweet event that happened in this store last year during my holiday shopping frenzy.

My mother was visiting me and we were working together to complete our Christmas shopping and holiday preparations. We had two carts FULL of merchandise from Bed, Bath and Beyond. We were buying additional aerobeds and bedding for our guests and a number of Christmas presents. One of the items was a new Cuisinart, which was going to be my mom's Christmas gift to me. :)

I had a coupon for 20% off a single item in this particular store. As we got in line at the check out counter, I asked mom to hand me the coupon, so I could put it with the Cuisinart, since it was in my cart. We had a little discussion about how the Cuisinart was our most expensive item, and it made the most sense to apply the coupon to it.

A man in the line next to us overheard our conversation. He was standing there holding a set of sheets in his hands. That was to be his entire purchase. He turned to me and said, "Excuse me, I couldn't help but overhear your conversation. I have a 20% off your ENTIRE order coupon here... would you like to switch coupons?" I was totally shocked! "Are you kidding?" I asked. He assured me that he would get the same discount (20% off his one item) and that he'd love to do this for us. I was in a state of complete surprise and gratitude. We traded coupons and I thanked him about 25 times. He gave a big, ear to ear grin and said, "Merry Christmas!" He paid for his sheets and left, and we went through our check out process.

That lovely man saved us about $200!!! A simple act of generosity, but non-the-less, he didn't have to do it. He did it out of the goodness of his heart, and we were totally blown away. He looked like he felt pretty darn good about it to.

To me, that is really what the spirit of the holidays is all about. Helping each other out, going above and beyond what is required and spreading joy and good will. I also happen to think that is what life should be all the time... every single day.

That man impacted my mother and I more than he will ever know. I have told the story over and over again. That man's generosity will live on forever. I only hope that I can spread the type of joy that he did in the check out line that day.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fear of Snow?

Hanging out in Boston during the wintertime is quite an experience for a west coaster like me. A few years ago, on a trip to visit a friend, we had several days of heavy snowfall. That’s not something I experience too much in Seattle. The snow is so beautiful, wafting downward, landing on tree limbs, winter-bare landscaping and lawn furniture. The steady snow had already put a good 6 inches on the ground over the previous few days, with more on the way. I was a little shocked to realize that, as I gazed at the peaceful winter scene outside, I was having a little tightening in my stomach. I felt fear. I knew that it had to do with the snow… but I also knew I needed to think this through a bit to uncover the whole story.

Who could possibly be afraid of snow? You east coasters probably can’t relate to this phenomenon at all. You see, on the west coast, at least in the areas between the mountains and the ocean, we don’t get too much snow. An inch or two of snow can literally paralyze a city. People freak out completely! As soon as a single snowflake falls there are rumors about school closures. If it snows for ½ an hour the rumors expand to include speculation about whether public events be cancelled! Now, in all fairness, we aren’t used to a lot of snow. We don’t know how to drive in snow and we have very little snow removal equipment. So, at least a certain degree of internal discomfort around a snow storm is to be expected. The reaction of most pacific north-westerners to snow, however, is simply not rational. I’m convinced that it is a ‘group-think’ consciousness phenomenon.

From my earliest years I can remember the reactions of all the adults around me when there was snow. We kids would be delighted and excited. The adults would look stricken… horrified… dejected… very worried. I think I must have absorbed this conditioned response at the cellular level. As much as I’ve traveled and hung out in snowy places, I still experience an automatic, internal ‘gasp’ when I see snow falling. I’ve cultivated an adult love and admiration for snow… but I have not yet been able to rid myself of those little nagging pangs of fear that occur when I see the fluffy white stuff descending from the sky.

This past week I was up in Castlegar BC. It's getting colder up there, and the snow can start at any time. When I planned this trip, I was a bit worried about the possibility of encountering snow. I had to cross two mountain passes. I put on winter snow tires on my Subaru Outback before my trip and hoped upon hope that the winter weather would wait for me to sneak in and sneak out before it descended.

God has a sense of humor. The weather was cold, but fairly clear the entire week I was on my trip. My drive over to Spokane and up to Castlegar was accomplished under sunny, clear skies. The entire time I was in Castlegar it was cold, but pleasant weather. My last morning in Castlegar I got up and started to pack up my car. You'll never guess what happened!! It started snowing! Out of a mostly blue sky, the snow started flurrying. Just enough snow to dust the ground slightly. I felt that familiar tightening in my stomach and I worried about my long drive ahead. Then, I decided there was nothing I could do about it and decided to just relax. In the end, it was just a flurry, and within an hour there were no more traces of snow.

I think this phenomenon is one that we should always be on the lookout for inside ourselves. What conditioned responses lurk in us? How many times do we simply go on autopilot and let our old tapes dictate how we think, feel or react to something? Definitely worth some pondering. It isn’t easy to shut off those old conditioned responses… but it is possible, with diligence and determination. So, I say… Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Right Stuff

I'm what you might call a creature of habit. I tend to be comforted by routine and I enjoy things that are familiar to me. I have my favorite restaurants, my favorite TV shows and my favorite clothes.

Up until quite recently, I always wore the same kind of clothing when I was exercising. Whether I was hiking, running, lifting weights or walking on my treadmill, I had sweat shorts, exercise bras, T-shirts and Sweatshirts that were all cotton based. Anyone who exercises a lot can tell you that cotton gets sweaty and stays that way for a really long time. You get very hot exercising, sweat and then as you cool down you become chilled from the damp clothes on your body.

There is an entire world of active wear out there that I knew nothing about. Evidently there are all kinds of fancy new fibers and materials that wick sweat away from the skin and keep you more comfortable. It's really quite remarkable. You are kept cooler when you are hot, and you are kept warm when you are cold.

I think its interesting that for so many years I continued to buy the same cotton sweat shorts and other exercise clothes without even giving a thought to the fact that there might be something better out there that could make my activities more comfortable and enjoyable. I simply kept doing what I had always done. It wasn't horrible, but little did I know there was an entirely new world out there.

How often in life do we make our situations more difficult by using the wrong tools and supplies, or not taking advantage of opportunities to accomplish our tasks more efficiently or enjoyably?

I'm reminded of the story of a man who was hired to paint the dotted line down the center of a country highway. His boss gave him the can of paint and his paintbrush and left him to his work. The boss returned mid morning to check on the painter's progress and was pleased with the distance he had covered. He returned at lunch time, and was a bit dismayed to see that the man had done only 1/2 as much during the second half of the morning, but decided to give the painter the benefit of the doubt. When the boss returned to check on the painter in the mid-afternoon, he was really upset to find that the man had done only 1/4 of what he had done in the early part of the morning. He went to talk to the painter and said, "I"m really concerned that you are slowing down more and more as the day goes on." The painter said, "Well, look, that's not my fault. The further I go, the longer it takes me to go back to the paint can to refill my brush!"

This seems like a pretty obvious example, but how often to we dot things that are as silly as not moving the paint can along with us when we are painting? I'd say it probably happens more often than any of us would care to admit. The good news is, when we become aware, we have huge shifts that make our lives better... instantly!

I started moving my paint can! I now have exercise clothes that make it more comfortable for me to do my activities and stay fit and healthy. I feel better, and as a result I enjoy my physical activities even more and I do more of them. All because of a new pair of shorts!!

Where's your paint can? Any chance you can move it closer to where you are working today? It could make all the difference!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Learning to Live with Disappointment

I think that life is about learning lessons. I believe we are here on the planet to grow and evolve spiritually. Everything that happens in our life gives us the opportunity to develop our consciousness and become more spiritually aware. It's a little like weight lifting. We lift weights to stengthen our physical muscles. Life give us experiences that we can use to strengthen our spiritual muscles in much the same way.

I think one of our main lessons in life is learning to deal with disappointment without "checking out." It is very difficult to experience deep disappointment and still remain engaged with life.

Whether it is rejection in a relationship, the loss of a job, losing a loved one, or a heartbreaking experience like war or oppression, it sometimes seems easier to turn your back on a person or a situation that has hurt you and pretend it no longer exists.

I believe that it is possible to learn to experience deep disappointment and still remain exposed to the object of your disappointment. Many of us have no choice in this matter. It can be quite problematic if we are continually exposed to an unavoidable situation that reminds us of our disappointment if we are unwilling to cope with it in a healthy way. That is where addictions and unhealthy coping mechanisms are born. We find a way to 'check out' anyway, even in the midst of that which disappoints us. Or, we find a way to physically avoid the situation and literally ignore it.

When I first started going to Israel and Palestine and witnessed the immense suffering there, it was very difficult to continue to go back and stay conscious in the midst of that level of pain and despair. It really takes a lot of commitment to processing my emotions, taking good care of myself and being as present as I can. I can't fix or change the situation there, but I can be there. I can be a witness to what is happening. I can be a source of support for my friends there. I can show people that I care about them, even if I can't take away their pain. What it takes is my willingness to be there, no matter how uncomfortable it is.

The tendency is to turn away from pain and disappointment. Avoiding pain and disappointment is a very human reaction, but it causes a lot of problems on the planet. We will go to extreme lengths to avoid discomfort. The trouble is, problems cannot be solved if we ignore or avoid them. Using that approach, or actual lack thereof, they will never be resolved!

Learning to tolerate, process and release our troubling emotions is the key to emotional health. It is the key to transforming our lives and transforming the world. I believe that it is some of the most important work we will ever do, for ourselves and the world.

What... or who do you have a tendency to turn away from? Perhaps today is the day to start leaning in to the experiences that trouble you. Turning and facing something is the way to start to dissolve its power and control over you.

I like this quote by Lee Lozowick:

"Essentially, the result of the most profound and sacred spiritual work is not an exalted state of consciousness, but a state of consciousness in which one is completely responsive to reality. That's what God-realization could be said to be."

Growing ourselves spiritually is what allows us to remain engaged in the world around us, without being destroyed by it. This is how we can make our most complete contribution to life.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Random Acts of Kindness

I loved the whole "Random Acts of Kindness" movement that happened several years back. In fact, it was pretty interesting to me, because in an old journal that predated that movement, I had made an entry about a book I wanted to write called, "Kindness is Contagious" which would be a number of vignettes about how when we do nice things for other people, it ripples out and causes others to do nice things too. It was remarkably similar to what showed up as the "Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" movement. When I had the idea for my book, I remembered thinking "Come on, Nola. No one else besides sappy old you would be interested in a book of stories about being nice to strangers and how that can change the world." When I first saw the Random Acts of Kindness book and bumper stickers, I remembered my book idea, and realized that the Universe was telling me I was wrong! There are a lot of people out there who would be interested in and touched by such a book! The world needed that book and that message. I didn't act on it, so the universe found someone else who would! :) I'm glad that the message made it through!

I've done a lot of this practice in my life. I really enjoy surprising people with acts of kindness. Especially strangers.

One of the interesting things I've observed in this practice, is how so many people have trouble accepting or receiving the act of kindness. I find it fascinating!

I was once in a grocery store at lunch time. I was attending a conference in a nearby hotel and I went in to pick up some water to take to the afternoon session. As I was standing in the checkout line, a young man was in front of me with several packaged sandwiches and some drinks. He had mechanics coveralls on and by the conversation he had with the checker it was obvious that he worked at the gas station across the parking lot from the store we were in. He explained that he was buying lunch for himself and the guys he worked with.

As the cashier tallied his bill, she announced the total. It was something like $20.42 The guy pulled out his money, and he was 42 cents short. He asked her if he could run back over to the station and get some more money. She was hesitant to allow him to leave the store with the merchandise. They went back and forth a few times as I observed the situation.

I thought about how easy it would be to give him 42 cents. As people often are, I felt a little hesitant. I didn't want to embarrass this young man. I didn't want him to say no and have it turn into a big debate. It was such an easy thing I could do. It would help him. It would take the young, obviously inexperienced checker off the hook. It would be a win-win for everyone... for the bargain price of 42 cents.

Their discussion continued, and people were backing up in line. I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out the change I had there. I kid you not... it was 42 cents EXACTLY! I took that as a sign that I was supposed to give him the money. I handed it to the young man and said, "Here you go."

As I predicted he started to tell me all the reasons why he couldn't accept. I assured him that it was my pleasure to help out, and that it was my 'random act of kindness' for the day. He argued with me a bit more and said he'd be happy to go get 42 cents and pay me back.

I told him that really wasn't necessary, and that I just wanted him to go enjoy his lunch with his buddies and let this be.

He finally accepted the money, thanked me about 10 times and told me if I EVER needed any work done on my car that I could come and see him at the gas station and he'd take care of it for me.

He was so surprised and overwhelmed by my small act of kindness he offered me free mechanical service on my car! Amazing isn't it?

This world is so filled with people who are caught up in their own, insulated lives. We don't see each other. We don't help each other out... especially strangers. I'm always touched to see how people react to small, random acts of kindness. Our world is so starved for it and it is such an aberration, that people often want to repay a tiny kindness with a giant one.

I always enjoy thinking about what the person I'm kind to will do to someone else in the future. I like to think that it is truly contagious! It feels so good when someone you don't know goes out of their way to be kind, that it gives us a little courage to intervene in a situation where a small kindness can make a big difference.

Look around in your world today. See if there is an opportunity where you could be kind to a total stranger and start a little kindness revolution. It is so much fun! I really do believe it can change our world!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Security at the Expense of Freedom

On one of my trips to Jerusalem, I had a simple chore to do for my friend Steve. His living room window was filthy and I wanted to wash it for him. I easily accomplished the task of cleaning the inside of the window. Steve then explained that it was almost impossible to clean the outside because of the ‘security cage’ that had been installed to prevent break-ins. Almost all the windows here have bars on them. It was one of the first things I noticed about ‘life in the middle east.’ I remember wondering if I could live with bars on my windows. They always make me feel like I’m in a prison cell.

“How hard could it be?” I wondered. A lot harder than I thought! The cage had been put in without a lot of thought. It is not removable, nor does it open. The only access to the outside of the window is from inside the house (by reaching through the open window itself and squeezing into the 8 inch wide cage), or by crawling through the shrubs outside and reaching through the small cage openings to wash a very small section of the window at one time. I eventually found myself in the cage, looking like a Garfield cat with suction cups on its feet, trying to wash a window that was 2 inches in front of my nose. My range of motion for my arms was incredibly restricted by the tight space. I did it, but I also understood how the window had gotten as dirty as it was. It is a royal pain using any of the limited options to clean it! As a result, it just doesn’t get cleaned.

I started to reflect on how “for security” this cage was installed to ‘keep out bad things’ without any thought to the impact that it would have on daily quality of life. To look through a dirty window might not seem like a big deal… but metaphorically it is! The only goal was to ‘keep safe.’ But at what cost? The result is a situation that negatively impacts the quality of one’s life and interaction with the world. In this case the window is dirty almost all the time. It restricts natural light from entering the room. It distorts the view of the ‘outside world.’ It looks dreary and depressing, which is the mood of almost everyone in this dark and disturbed part of the world.

What struck me most was the blind urge for security at any cost that was obviously at play when the cage was installed. It could have been done differently… in a way that would not denigrate the quality of life. Many decisions about how to ‘keep ourselves safe’ could be looked at from a more broad, less paranoid perspective. Many times our attempt to ‘keep ourselves safe’ ends up putting us in a prison of our own creation. We trade a lot of freedom and life quality in the quest to protect ourselves. Are we really safer there? Is it worth what we have to give up? Exploring the true nature of security and freedom is fertile ground in own spiritual growth process. I believe if we understand ‘true security’ we will not need to lock ourselves in prison to feel safe. Open the cage and set yourself free. It is the way to peace on earth! Salam-Shalom-Peace…