Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Taking the Easy Way Out

I ate lunch the other day in one of my favorite fast food restaurants. When the cashier rang in my order, it came to $9.17. I handed her a $20 bill, and searched for 17 cents in change in my coin purse. Digging through the shekels from my recent trip to Israel/Palestine, I realized that I only had one US coin in the mix. I took the quarter out and handed it to the cashier.

She typed in $20.25 as the amount tendered and the cash register told her that my change was to be $11.08.

She looked confused for a moment and handed me $11 and 25 cents back. I said, "No, this is the quarter I gave you. You only need to give me 8 cents back."

She said, 'Well, this will be easier." She handed me back my quarter and scurried away.

I stood there for a moment, and considered giving this kid a lecture on right and wrong, and the danger of taking short cuts. I thought about the person who would later need to balance this till... and I wondered how many other transactions she took short cuts on and how 'off' the balance of this cash drawer would be by the end of the day. It all adds up.

It made me sad to think of what this young woman will manifest in her life. That attitude is not going to serve her well. Of that I am sure.

How long would it take to count out 8 cents? Why would that be considered such an imposition for this kid... when that is her job!

How far off would that cash drawer become? Who might get in trouble for not keeping track of the money better? Who would potentially pay the price for her carelessness and laziness?

How often do we find ourselves facing the temptation of taking the easy way out of a situation.

When a clerk makes a mistake in our favor, and we know it, do we correct them? Or do we rejoice that their error yeilded us something we didn't expect (or deserve)?

A guest in my home, visiting over the holidays, made a comment that the needles from my Christmas tree were getting tracked all over the house. He asked if I wanted to sweep them up. I knew that my house would be getting cleaned in a couple days, and to be honest with you, a few tree needles here and there really didn't bother me. I was willing to wait until the house got cleaned to have that problem resolved. My guest offered to sweep for me if I got him a broom. I was somewhat shocked at the offer, but brought a broom, and dust pan to him. I was busy cooking in the kitchen at the time and wasn't willing to stop and do the sweeping chore myself. After a few minutes I glanced over to find him sweeping the pine needles under my sofa!!!!

"What the heck are you doing?" I asked.

"Just getting these needles out of the floor."

"So, instead of leaving them alone so they can be properly cleaned up when I have the time... you are putting them somewhere they will probably remain for all eternity? Excactly how is that helpful?"

I couldn't believe it. As though sweeping them 'under the rug' was better than leaving them visible - to be dealt with at a later time. I was just in awe of that logic.

The attitude of taking short cuts, finding the easy way out, and sweeping things under the rug is problematic in the living of life. Those sorts of actions will always find their way back to us by way of negative consequences.

I suggest we look at our 'little' behaviors that trend in this way and nip them in the bud! If they show up in our lives in little ways, we can be sure they will arrive in larger and more destructive ways at some point down the road.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Doukhobor Ideas

I received a lovely package in the mail this week from my cousin Peter in Canada. I reconnected with this branch of my Russian family last year. He sent me a calendar and a magazine commemorating 100 years of Doukhobor presence in Canada.

It has been quite a journey to learn more about my Doukhobor heritage. The more I learn about basic Doukhobor beliefs, the more I am amazed at how similar they are to my own belief system. I've written before that I find it amazing that I could have no 'conscious' exposure to Doukhobor ideology in my past, and yet have come to many conclusions in my own spiritual quest that are present in the Doukhobor belief system.

In the magazine he sent me, there are two aritcles that I'd like to share. One is called "Who Are the Doukhobors?" I'll share a part of that first. I resonate deeply with many of the concepts expressed in it.

The second is an article entitled, "Be Devout: Fundamental Doukhobor Psalm." I'd like to share it here, because so much of it represents the beliefs that I have come to in my own spiritual quest.

Who Are the Doukhobors?

In 1785, Archbishop Ambrosius of the Russian Orthodox Church referred to a group of Russian religious dissidents as "Doukho-bortsi." The term means Spirit Wrestlers - he intended it as a derogatory label, meaning thse people were struggling against the Spirit of God. However, they adopted the name, saying: "We are Spirit Wrestlers because we wrestle with and for the Spirit of God against those things which are evil." They had come to the belief that in struggling for a better life they would use only the spiritual power of love rather than any form of violence paying heed to the biblical maxim: 'Resist not evil."

The Doukhobors base their religious philosophy on two commandments: "Recognize and love God with all they heart, mind and soul;" and "Love they neighbor as thyself."

"What is God?" they are asked.

"God is a word, God is spirit, God is love. WHere there is love, there is God."

"What is a soul?"

"The soul is the reflection of God'[s spirit in that person."

The Doukhobors understand Jesus Christ to have lived and died in the flesh. He arose in spirit and continues to arise in those people who follow his teachings. This is the resurrection.

Inspired by the high ideals and dynamic leadership of Peter V. Verigin the Doukhobors made a decisive stand against militarism and all forms of violence. "War," they believe, "is incompatible with Christianity."

On June 29, 1895 about 7,000 Doukhobors burned all their weapons in a decisive demonstration of pacifism - to kill another being is to kill the spirit of God within that person.

The Doukhobor stand against killing coupled with their stand against military service and the oath of allegiance met with harsh oppression by the Czarist State and Church authorities. This extreme persecution attracted worldwide attention and with the help of humanitarians such as Lev Tolstoy, Vladiir Chertkov and their collegues and contacts in arrangmenet with Clifford Sifton; Canadian Minister of the Interior, some 7,500 Doukhobors were able to immigrate to Canada in 1899 as suitable immigrants to develop the area then known as Assiniboia in the Northweat Territories.

Their agrarian communal society was a glowing tribute to their slogan "Toil and Peaceful Life."

Be Devout: Fundamental Doukhobor Psalm

Be devout, trust in God. Love Him with all your heart. Be zealous towards His holy church. All His Commandments sacredly revere and observe. Follow the path of virtue; shun all vice. Be prudent. Having in mind the end, always maintain the right perception of your means.

Do not idly let go by an occasion for worthy deeds. Do not embark on any venture without careful deliberation, and in your reasoning do not hurry. Be not tardy, except only under special circumstances and occasions. Do not believe everything you hear. Do not desire everything you see.

Do not proceed to do everything you are able to. Do not proclaim everything you know, but only that which should be proclaimed. That which you do not know, do not affirm, nor deny; best of all - enquire; then wilt thou be discreet.

Bed temperate. Do not partake of food without hunger. Without thirst, do not drink, and that only in small quantities when required. Avoid drunkenness as you would Hades. Intemperence begets sickness, sickness brings death. The abstemious live healthily and in continuous well-being.

Be meet, not arrogant - keeping more to silence than to talkativeness. When someone is speaking - keep quiet. When someone is addresing you - pay attention. When someone is relaying orders to you - fulfil them, and do not boast. Do not be obstinate, quarrelsome or vain. To all be affable, to none be a flatterer. Be thou also righteous.

Do not desire anything belonging to others; do not steal, but in whatsoever you may have need, seek it through your labor. In poverty ask for help; when it is given, accept it and be thankful. Whatsoever you ahve borrowed - return; whatsoever you have promised - fulfill.

Be courageous, always willing to labor. Leave off all idleness and laziness. If you wish to start some project, measure well your strength in nadvance, then proceeed without letting up. In adversity, do not lose hope; in prosperity, do not morally deteriorate. Hold thriftiness in esteem. Keep careful observation of the different occurrences in life of inconstancy, misfortune and sorrow.

Over that which the patient forbear, the fainhearted sigh, lament and wail. Be benevolent and gravious. Give to him that asketh of thee, if though hast; help the poor, if thou canst. If anyone has hurt thee - forgive him; if thou hast hurt anyone - reconcile thyself with him. It is very commendable to refrain from holding grudges. Forgive the sinner; accede to the reconciler. If you yourslef will love your fellow man, you shall in turn be loved by all people. Be thou also obedient to elders, compainionable to equals, and courteous to subordinates. Greet those whom you meet; return the greeting of those who greet you.

To the enquirer, give answer; to the ignorant, give advice; to the sorrowing, give comfort. Do not envy anyone. Wish well to all. Serve each and all as much as you are able to. With your good deeds you shall please all people. Your friends shall love you, and your enemies will not be able to hate you. Always speak the truth; never lie. Observe all this, and good fortune shall always be your lot.

Glory to God!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Last Night of Chanukah 2008

Last night was the final night of the Jewish Holiday Chanukah. Here is a photo of my menoarrah, with all the candles lit to mark the last night of this festival and celebration of light and miracles.

Below is an excerpt from a great site on the story behind Chanukah. There is also a link so you can read more about Chanukah and the traditions and customs surrounding it. There is also a link to the candle lighting blessings that are said as the menorrah candles are lit.


The Story
The story of Chanukkah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Palestine, but allowed the lands under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy. Under this relatively benevolent rule, many Jews assimilated much of Hellenistic culture, adopting the language, the customs and the dress of the Greeks, in much the same way that Jews in America today blend into the secular American society.

More than a century later, a successor of Alexander, Antiochus IV was in control of the region. He began to oppress the Jews severely, placing a Hellenistic priest in the Temple, massacring Jews, prohibiting the practice of the Jewish religion, and desecrating the Temple by requiring the sacrifice of pigs (a non-kosher animal) on the altar. Two groups opposed Antiochus: a basically nationalistic group led by Mattathias the Hasmonean and his son Judah Maccabee, and a religious traditionalist group known as the Chasidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees (no direct connection to the modern movement known as Chasidism). They joined forces in a revolt against both the assimilation of the Hellenistic Jews and oppression by the Seleucid Greek government. The revolution succeeded and the Temple was rededicated.

According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.

Chanukah Information from

Chanukah Candle Lighting Blessings

In the exerpt above, I'm encouraged by the statement that the holiday commerates the miracle of the oil, and not the military victory... and that Jews do not glorify war.

I am opposed to war and violence of all kinds. I do not believe it is an enlightened or civilized way to resolve our problems, nor to secure our own safety. I do not condone suicide bombings, home made rockets or organized military actions against others. In my heart and mind they are all equivalent acts.

As the horrible carnage in Gaza rages on at the hands of the Israeli military, I hope we all wake up to the insanity of war and oppression and of using military might to try to 'secure peace.'

The people of Gaza do not deserve what is happening to them. Collective punishment of the many, for the actions of a few, at the hands of one of the most powerful militaries on earth, is every bit as offensive to me as a suicide bombing or a terrorist attack. Both are acts of ignorance and neither brings the intended result. War begets war. Violence begets violence.

We have to look beneath acts of violence to understand what fuels them and solve the problem at that level.

I do have a special problem with powerful militaries attacking people who have nothing. The people of Gaza have suffered enormously as a result of the Israeli blockage of their borders for month after month after month. This is a breeding ground for frustration, outrage and violence.

In my view of the world, the more powerful party has the greater obligation to use its power wisely, fairly and justly. Attacking the people of Gaza in this brutal and heartless fashion will never resolve the rockets flying from there into southern Israel. The problem is far more complicated than 'snuffing out' terrorism. Terrorism grows from opression, discrimination and mistreatment, with a little ideology thrown in for good measure.

Pray for the people of Gaza. Pray for a world where we all wake up to the fact that violence will NEVER create peace or security.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Shovel While the Shoveling is Good

I've never experienced a white Christmas like this one! Yesterday, Christmas Day, the snow fell all day long! I had almost a foot of snow at my house.

On Monday this past week I shoveled the snow from my driveway, front walkway and from my deck to my garbage cans. Today, I spent another hour and a half doing it all again... plus clearing the snow plow drift that was blocking my driveway! What a project!!

I could have rested. I could have simply kicked back on Christmas day. There was something I had to consider in my decision. The snow had begun to melt during the day and the temperatures were going to drop below freezing that night. That meant that all the liquid would turn to ice overnight.

The snow that was kicked into the entrance to my driveway by the snow plow would turn to hard ice chunks. This could literally trap me in my driveway if I left it to freeze. It could actually make it impossible for me to get out of my driveway in my 'every day car' for weeks to come!

I was faced with the dilemma of resting and relaxing today and paying a price for days and weeks to come... or, I could get out, sweat and exert myself in a significant way today - in order to ensure my freedom in the coming days and weeks.

We often have choices between instant gratification and long term benefit. It is easy to go for the quick fix or the instant payoff. It requires something deeper to make the choice to forgo instant gratification for a payoff in the future.

As I contemplated the luxury of napping in my recliner on Christmas day compared to going out in the freezinmg cold to shovel a foot of snow - the 'choice of the moment' seemed obvious.

I realized, however, that I literally could imprison myself with my choice. If I didn't clear my driveway I literally might not be able to get out of my house for days or weeks to come.

Still, there are times in life where we would choose the convenient and comfortable path - even if the long term consequence was dire.

Today... I made the right choice. As my heart pounded with each heavy shovel full of snow, I thought about the recliner inside. A hot cup of tea... the fire... and rest. With all that on my mind, I continued in my labor!

I'll tell you... nothing feels as good as that moment when I came inside, my work completed, and changed into clean, dry clothes and relaxed, knowing my freedom had been secured for the coming days! I had done the 'hard time' and now I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the day, knowing I had made a good choice.

I wish you, moment by moment, the ability to make good choices, and take the long view for your life. Foregoing short term gratification for long term gain is the most satisfying success of all!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008


I'm sitting in a rare 'winter wonderland' here in the Seattle area. We've been slammed with a winter storm this year that has lasted for a week!It has caused a lot of inconvenience for shoppers and holiday travelers. It's quite beautiful, but has added an element of difficulty for many this holiday season. It has been a challenge for all of us to maintain our holiday spirit as we've been house bound, or slogging through very slow, congested traffic to get our errands accomplished!

I'm grateful this holiday that my family is all safe and sound, albeit not together. Everyone is fine and making the best of the holiday that is possible. We've all had to let go of what is 'traditional' and make some new traditions this year.

I had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner last night, complete with freshly baked french bread made by my brother. It was incredible!

Here are a few photos of my holiday thus far. I wish you and yours a magnificent Christmas... MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Christmas Eve & the 4th night of Hanukkah... my Menorah is lit,
sitting next to a replica of Santa's sleigh!

My front yard... decked out in snow!

My dreamy Christmas tree...

Is that cotton??? In December? In Seattle?

Garth and his gorgeous French bread!

Did I really mean it??? Notice the white world out the window!


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Comfort and Joy

What if we lived life with a super simple objective in mind? Sometimes I think we complicate things way beyond reason.

I received a holiday card that has a simple winter scene with the words, "Comfort & Joy" on the front.

It got me thinking about the simplicity of the message that Jesus brought us: To live a holy life we don't need to follow a huge numbers of laws to the letter. A few simple principles, well lived, can transform our lives and the world.

It isn't about looking religious publicly, its about doing what's right and treating other people well. It's as simple as that.

What if we got up every day, and set as a goal to provide 'comfort' to others... and to bring joy to other people's lives? What if we each just set out to do one thing each day to bring comfort and/or joy to another human being? And what if we set our goal to not bring discomfort or sadness to another human being? Can you imagine the world we would live in?

I'm going to to take this Christmas card to heart. On this Christmas Eve 2008, I will endeavor to bring a little comfort and joy to those around me... to those I know... and to those I don't know.

Merry Christmas Eve to us all! Let's all be the best human beings we can be... I think that's what Jesus had in mind!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Life Gets In the Way

We are having quite a December here in the Seattle area. Recently, we've had a series of winter storms that have really messed with people's daily lives. We aren't used to snow here. We usually get very little. When the white fluffy stuff does appear, it usually paralyzes us until it disappears.

We've had over a week of snow storms, freezing temperatures and hazardous driving conditions. Many people have been unable to travel at all.

Our airport has been inundated with stranded travelers. Many people are not able to get out of the area and on to their holiday destinations.

In my own life, none of my family members are going to be able to make it to my home, as planned, for Christmas. They live down in Oregon, where the storms have been even more fierce than our own.

I find myself, like many people in this area, trying to prepare for the holidays, which may or may not be anything like they have been in the past.

I did my grocery shopping, during a break in the weather, before I knew for sure that my family wasn't coming. I have a huge prime rib roast now, and no one to eat it! I have the tree and house decorated, and no one is coming.

It has been a little tough this past week to get into the holiday mood. Lots of things that usually happen, haven't been able to happen.

The financial pressures of this year had already changed the nature of our holiday. now mother nature has put another kink into the plan.

Most of the people I know are having trouble finding the holiday spirit this year. It is a challenge for all of us.

I've been reflecting on how much I count on things going 'as planned' in order to feel good about life. When the finances are good, and everything goes as I plan, it is so easy to be happy and upbeat!

I've decided that this year is all about changing my perspective at a deep level. What is it that give me happiness? If I depend on outer circumstances 'going my way' in order to be happy... I'm going to have a lot of disappointment in my path!

The snow here is beautiful. I'm driving a lot slower than I usually do. I'm seeing the surrounding country side differently than I normally do. My entire pace has slowed to accommodate the weather. I'm home more, because driving, at times, has been difficult. I've done a lot of projects that I usually don't have time to work on. I've also read for pleasure! I finished an entire book... something I haven't done in a long time!

I'm choosing to look at this 'inclement weather' as an opportunity to slow down and examine what I have come to depend on in an unhealthy manner - and let go of it all. I want to be able to enjoy whatever comes. Even if it isn't at all what I planned. Perhaps there is a gift in the withholding of what we want and expect. Maybe we need times of 'reset' where much of what we count on and depend on disappears from our life.

I think for many of us, we are being given an opportunity to reexamine our lives and our habits. We are being given a chance to deepen our way of engaging with life and creating a more authentic experience!

So, if your holiday isn't unfolding as you hoped or planned... embrace what IS happening. Look for something to be joyful about - right where you are!

Happy Holidays! Let it snow!! :)

Monday, December 22, 2008

When Discipline Counts

Sometimes in life, we have to do things we don't want to do. Sometimes we have to do things that we don't feel prepared to do. When life calls us to step up to the plate, we have no choice but to do so.

I'm amazed at how often I have to be forced to do the things I need to do. I resist. I say I'm not ready. I try to find other 'experts' to do things for me. I doubt myself. I often waste a LOT of time (and sometimes money) trying to get others to do the work for me... and finally... I face the fact that the task is MINE to do.

This past few days, I've spent about 40 hours working on something I entrusted to 'professionals' only to be horribly let down. Now, I've decided I'm the one to to it and I've finally embraced the challenge.

Thankfully, I am organized. I have also studied the subject at length for the past few years. Now, I'm finally launching into an implementation of all that preparation.

I feel like I'm on a good track and I'm going in the right direction. What a good feeling!

I'm not sure why some of us, especially women, doubt our abilities - even in the face of overwhelming evidence that we know what we're doing! I find it frustrating and at times, downright infuriating! I'm committing to letting that go!!!

Now that the majority of my 'chore' is behind me... I'm feeling quite grand! It is such a wonderful feeling to tackle something that needs to be done and watch it fall into place.

We all tend to underestimate our abilities at times. It is a great goal to set... to push through our insecurities and self doubt. The world is best served by us eliminating self doubt and insecurity!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas is Coming

Tis the season. Christmas is right around the corner. There are gifts to wrap, cookies to bake and fudge to make. There is a tree to put up and decorate. Many rituals and traditions swirl around us at this time of year. It can be magical. It can also be stressful.

This year, with people struggling financially, many people are simplifying their holidays. I certainly am not doing my normal routine. Gift giving is scaled back, and as it turns out, some of my decorating will be scaled back as well.

This may feel like a 'loss' to some, but I think there is a great opportunity here. Sometimes the holidays are so stress filled and overwhelming that it can leave us exhausted and depleted. That's not what Christmas is supposed to be about!

Christmas and holidays are meant to be times when we look deeper within ourselves and appreciate all that we've been given in this life. It is a time to cherish our family and friends and enjoy being together. It's a time to let each other know how we feel about each other. Somehow we turned this into a commercial purchasing-fest.

It's much more important to share ourselves with the ones we love. That's what the holidays should be about. That's what we have the opportunity to make them about!

Let's use this 'lean' holiday season as an opporunity to return to the heart and soul of life. Let people know how you feel about them. Express your appreciation for those in your life who make it better and happier. Don't buy gifts... give of yourself. Give of your time. Give of your emotions. Share what matters with those that matter.

Happy Holidays! Relax... and enjoy the season!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Believing the Best

When hard times strike, it is a true test of our faith. It is easy to believe that there is order in the universe when everything is going or way. When crisis comes, however, it is harder to trust that all is as it should be. Yet, it is at these difficult times, when it is most important to believe that everything is unfolding as it should, and that a better day is on its way.

I've had a couple friends lose their jobs recently. As difficult and frightening as this can be, in both cases, I believe that they can find much better jobs that compensate them much more fairly than what they had. I have NO DOUBT that this is the case. From where they sit, it isn't as easy to believe. From my more objective place, I see their blazing talent and abilities, and I see how they were being underappreciated and underpaid in their former situations. I'm excited to see them move into situations that value them more and show that appreciation in tangible ways.

I have my own challenges going on at present, and it is always easier to look at other people's adversity with optimism than one's own! I'm working on my attitude as we speak. As certain as I am that my friends will be better off in the long run, friends of mine would say the very same about me in my situation.

I truly believe that there is a higher power directing our days. I believe that even our hardest challenges are designed to grow up personally and spiritually. It's all in how we handle those challenges. Our perspective, attitude and expectancy are all important! We can live predicting doom and gloom, or we can live knowing that even in tough times we are moving towards all that is rightfully ours.

The best is coming! It might not be visible at this moment, but that doesn't mean it isn't on its way!

Believe the best is yet to be! Even in our darkest hour... the possibility of a better future is within our grasp. Sometimes our 'worst' experiences become our best. We just need to keep believing - even when we are frustrated and feeling defeated. The Universe has a plan for us. All will be revealed!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Above the Law

On my long haul flight back from Tel Aviv to Newark, New Jersey a few days ago, I sat next to a very, let's say, interesting fellow.

I actually was near him in the airport and found myself feeling a little annoyed by his loud cell phone voice, as he talked on and on about his 'very important business.' He wanted to make sure that everyone around him could hear his conversation.

Much to my dismay, when I boarded the plane, I realized that he was my seat mate. He continued his phone calls until the moment we were instructed to turn off our electronic devices. He did not, however, turn off his phone when that time came. He continued to text and surf the web through taxi and takeoff. Each time the flight attendants would walk by, he would hide the phone he was using. Unbelievable. What could possibly be that important?

He also did not properly stow his bags as instructed. Since he was on the aisle and I was at the window, his bags posed mostly a danger to me - in case of emergency. He had a large backpack that would not fit in the space under the seat in front of him. The flight attendants seemed tired (like the rest of us) as a result of the delay, and weren't paying a lot of attention to this sort of thing. Not good.

It got worse. Throughout the flight, my buddy would throw his trash on the floor by his feet. Empty water bottles, the napkin and table cloth from our dinner, the wrapper for his blanket, dirty kleenexes... you name it. To make matters worse, he kept using his feet to push his trash over in front of me. I'd wake up and reach down to get something out of my small bag, and all his... junk was in front of me. I continually pushed these things, very obviously, back in front of him.

I feel a bit frustrated with myself that I didn't say something to him early on. All I can say in my own defense is that I knew he and I had 13 hours together, and I didn't want to start an uncomfortable feud that would last throughout the long flight.

What I wanted to say to him was, "So... did you really not understand the rules? Or do you simply believe that they don't apply to you?"

The arrogance and disregard for others was astounding. He obiously didn't care about my boundaries/space... let alone my safety. It was all about him, in his grandiose sense of self!

That sort of arrogance is at the root of so many of our problems in this world. Disregard for other's well being in order to indulge one's own desires is a cause of great injustice and suffering.

This one fellow was like a giant reminder to me of one of the 'illnesses' that grips our world these days. Selfishness, self absorbtion and oblivion to the needs or rights of others are dangerous conditions. All of us should guard against these negative qualities with ernest vigor.

I probably should have said something to this fellow... as politely and compassionatley as possible. Next time, maybe I will.

More importantly, however, I want to make sure that I never treat others with even a shred of the arrogant disregard with which he treated me. That is the best way I can contribute to the minimization (or better yet eradication) of these qualities in the human race.

We are not alone. We do not live in a bubble. What we do, each and every moment, affects others. Being aware of our impact on others is one of the greatest gifts we can give to life. We all leave a trail behind us based on how we live and how we treat other people. May we each endeavor to leave a positive and pleasant wake behind us as we travel through life.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Introducing PathPositives CDs

At long last I'm pleased to announce the launch of my PathPositives programs on CD. This has been a long time coming. I've been working on this for the past 2 years... and at last, I'm ready to 'go live!'

PathPositives programs contain a set of powerful affirmations that are presented in an interactive audio format.

Our deeply held beliefs and our persistent thoughts have a profound impact on our life experience. Many of these thoughts and beliefs reside below the level of consciousness. Even though these beliefs and thoughts are outside of our ordinary awareness, they are influencing every aspect of our lives - sometimes quite negatively.

Each PathPositives program is designed to alter the unconscious thoughts that play a profound role in the creation and maintenance of your reality.

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PathPositives can help you restructure the foundational beliefs and perspectives that shape your life! Give these powerful products a try and watch your world transform!

Sample programs include:

* Self Esteem
* Self Confidence
* Healthy Boundaries
* Improving Your Body Image
* Healthy Relationships

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Link to Inspired Path Store

Friday, December 12, 2008

Signing Off From Jerusalem - Dec 2008

The time has almost arrived for me to leave Jerusalem. I just found out that my flight from Tel Aviv is 6 hours delayed. This will cause me to miss my connection to Seattle in Newark. That means I'll get to sit for 7.5 hours in the Newark airport to make the only possible connection for me. Hmmmm.... not exactly good news.

It also means that my flight will leave Israel at 6am instead of midnight. I was going to be at the airport by 8:30pm, now I need to be there by 3am. Ouch.

I almost returned my rental car a day early so that a friend could give me a ride to the airport. At the last minute, I just *felt* like I should keep the car. It was a strong intuitive hit that I might need the car. Now I do, indeed, need the car! I'm grateful for the intuition. It would have caused a problem for all concerned had I turned it in.

As it stands, I'll experience some serious inconvenience from this change. The weird flight departure, paying for an extra day on the rental car, the long layover in Newark and getting home at 10:30pm instead of at lunch time.

I find myself a little disappointed, but more than anything, I feel like it is all happening as it was meant to. I'm not sure why, but it's as it should be. I learned long ago to trust this sort of thing... no matter how it appears on the outside.

The car intuition sort of 'confirms' that this was 'destined' at some level. So, I'll surrender into it... and RELAX.

As a result of the delay, I'm getting to watch my favorite holiday movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" for the second time of this trip. That's a treat... and will get me in the holiday mood.

I also was able to complete a big work project! That was something I'd hoped to do while I was here, but wasn't sure it was realistic. Now... it's DONE!:)

As I prepare to leave Jerusalem, I'm a little sad, as I always am. I really do love it here. Just being here is a pleasure for me.

On this trip I was able to visit Jericho and the area surrounding the Sea of Galilee. I got to visit many good friends and catch up on their lives. I took 500 pictures of the kids I love here... and made my collages for them. I am so lucky to be able to come here and know all these wonderful people and be a part of their lives.

I'm going to post a couple of the collages I made here... of my friend's beautiful children.

As I sign off from Jerusalem, I wish you Peace-Salaam-Shalom.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Journey Back To Jerusalem

I had a delightful visit in the north of Israel... and made the journey back to Jersualem 2 days ago.

I spent two nights in Rosh Pina, with my friends Orna and Yair Moore. I wrote about their work in Safed/Tsfat yesterday.

After I left them on Tuesday and headed to my friend Azmi's village, Daburreya. Daburreya is an Arab village that sits at the bottom of Mt. Tabor. Mt Tabor is where Jesus transfigured before some of the disciples.

I stopped by, intending to spend just a short time, but that never works! I hadn't been there for a year and being a holiday, everyone in Azmi's family was around!

What was supposed to be a 1 hour visit turned into 4 hours. I got to see Azmi's mom and dad, several of his brothers, sisters in law and a ton of kids!

It was a nice visit. I took more photos of the kids and am now ready to make the collages for them. It is a project I do every time I visit here. I usually come every 6 months and have been taking pictures of Azmi's kids since they were born. We have quite a photographic history of their short little lives!

Here is a picture of Azmi, his wife Suha, and their three kids:

Here are some pictures of me with the kids:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Salvaging the Treasure

I just returned to Jerusalem from a trip to the north - the Sea of Galilee area. I spent 2 nights with my friends Orna and Yair in Rosh Pinna. I spent all day yesterday at their weaving and art gallery in Safed/Tsfat, the highest (elevation wise) town in Israel. It's a beautiful old city.

Yair is involved in an amazing restoration project. He, and his wife Orna, restored the current site in the old city that houses their weaving studio and gallery the Canaan Gallery. Now, he's involved in a larger project to restore a large complex of buildings surrounding a courtyard. The courtyard contains a fig tree that is over 100 years old. The name of the set of shops is the "Fig Tree Courtyard."

I got the grand tour of the renovation project. Since I was here a year ago the progress is simply astounding.

I'm so impressed that my friend is turning a pile of abandoned rubble into something so beautiful and alive. It is an ancient site... that had fallen into ruin. No one could see the possibility. It takes special eyes to look at something that has fallen apart or disintegrated and see a grand vision of what 'could be.' My friend Yair has that gift.

In a world where everyone wants something new, better, different and improved... it is a lost art to convert the discarded into a treasure.

We could all take a lesson from Yair... to train our eyes to see the possibility and then to be willing to do the hard work necessary to bring the vision to glorious life.

Here is a picture of the fig tree courtyard a year ago... and today. Still much work remains to be done, but it is coming along.

The Fig Tree Courtyard - 1 year ago

The Fig Tree Courtyard - Today

Here is my friend Yair, in his cafe, making me my morning espresso.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Real Religion

My friend Steve was recently in the hospital here in Jerusalem. He had a serious health challenge and was there for quite a while.

If you've known me for any length of time, you know the special story of Steve (an Israeli Jewish) and Azmi (A Palestininian/Muslim) who many years ago, forged a father/son bond.

Steve helped Azmi become established as an attorney in Jerusalem. Azmi has helped Steve with many health challenges and navigation of social services with the state of Israel. Their special friendship and bond has touched the hearts and minds of everyone they encounter.

Azmi is like a son to Steve and has really 'been there' for him in times of trouble.

Steve has other friends who have visited and helped, but none more consistently and completely than Azmi.

Azmi was explaining the other night that he was a bit surprised by the fact that some of those closest to Steve didn't seem to 'step up' and help as much as he would have expected.

One particular guy whom Azmi really likes (and feels close to) did not help much at all. This dissappointed Azmi.

Another friend, who is a fairly 'extremist' and 'right wing' Jew, has been there for Steve much more. Azmi knows that this guy's poltics view him and his people very unfavorably. He obviuosly disagrees with those views, yet he admires and respects this guy for how he has 'shown up' for Steve.

Azmi said to me, "I don't care what a person's political or religious views are. I judge them by what they do... how they act in situations like this." He said something I really loved. He said that when trouble strikes and a person steps in to help that, "THIS... is the REAL RELIGION."

In other words, he went on to explain, that talk is cheap and even buying in to an ideology (for whatever reason) rings hollow... the real judge of a man's faith and character is how he will react when someone near him needs help.

I'm reminded of my own Dukhobor roots. It is not important the dogma or creed in which you believe - it only matters how you treat other people as you move through life. That is Azmi's view as well.

He's a bit more charitable than I am when it comes to 'forgiving' someone's association with violent or nasty ideology (in this case Jewish extremism where no non-Jews are particularly welcome in their society). I admire his ability to look past that sort of thing when it comes to the care of a loved one.

If we all practiced the "REAL RELIGION" what a world we would inhabit!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Eid Mubarak - Eid Al Adha 2008

Today is the beginning of Eid Al Adha, the Islamic feast (Eid). I would like to wish all my Muslim brothers and sisters an Eid Mubarak!

Here's a great website that gives lots of fun information on the Eid:
The Holiday Spot Website for Eid Al Adha

From Wikipedia's entry on Eid Al-Adha:

Eid al-Adha (Arabic: عيد الأضحى ‘Īd ul-’Aḍḥā) or the Festival of Sacrifice is a religious festival celebrated by Muslims and Druze worldwide in commemoration of the willingness of Ibrahim (Abraham) to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to God. The devil tempted Ibrahim by saying he should disobey God and spare his son. As Ibrahim was about to sacrifice his son, God intervened and instead provided a lamb as the sacrifice. This is why today all over the world Muslims who have the means to, sacrifice an animal (usually a goat or a sheep), as a reminder of Ibrahim's obedience to God. The meat is then shared out with family, friends (Muslims or non-Muslims), as well as the poor members of the community. (Islam names Ishmael as the son who was to be sacrificed, whereas the Judeo-Christian name Isaac).

Eid al-Adha occurs the day after the pilgrims conducting Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims worldwide, descend from Mount Arafat.

I encourage you to read more about Eid Al Adha (at the link provided above). It's a fascinating event.

The Haj, is also very interesting. Here is a bit of information about Haj from the Wikipedia Website:

The Hajj (Arabic: حج‎) is a pilgrimage to Mecca (Makkah). It is the largest annual pilgrimage in the world.[1] It is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in their lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so. It is a demonstration of the solidarity of the Muslim people, and their submission to Allah.

The feast includes 2-3 days of visiting friends and relatives, eating amazing food and feeding the poor. It is a festive time of joy and celebration. Children are given a new, fancy outfit for the Eid as part of the custom/tradition. Selecting these outfits can be a major project of great importance!

One of the wonderful traditions is the baking of mamul - semolina cookies filled with dates. Arab Muslims make them for their two festivals/feasts each year: Eid Al Adha (today's holiday) and Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. Here is a photo of mamul cookies that I made with my family last year:

Eid cookies

Happy Eid to us all!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Little Mistakes Lead to Big Mistakes

I tried to avoid the the truth. Several months ago, I hired a professional to provide me with a particular service. As our relationship unfolded, I noticed that many small errors were being made on his part. I kept trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it was just the minutia of all the original paperwork set up. Perhaps once all the busy work of establishing the working arrangement was completed, things would get better. All of the mistakes were annoying and required my time and attention to straighten them out, but overall, it was a minor irritation and the cost was low.

Then, a major mistake occurred. It was a greatly increased magnitude of importance, but still not an irreversible or costly mistake. The fact that it was a more serious error, however, cauesd my nervousness to increase.

Right on the heels of that major mistake, another HUGE mistake was made. This time the consequences were severe and costly. I was mortified.

In the end, the guy who made the mistake, set it right. The relationship was severed (his choice, not mine) and that was that.

I had tried to preserve the relationship at all costs, even after the major, costly mistake. I felt I needed the service provided by this guy, and was willing to compromise my own standards of quality to get it.

I have been reflecting on the fact that I so desperately wanted to believe that things were going to be OK I 'talked myself into' thinking that a law of the universe didn't apply to this particular situation!

If someone is diligent in small things, they will be diligent over large things. If someone is careless over small things, they will be careless over large things.

I tried to convince myself that someone could do poorly with small details, and yet handle the details of more important things well. That doesn't make a lot of sense.

It is a testament to how we can 'wish it were so' to the point where we ignore the obvious, ignore our better instincts and make bad decisions on our own behalf.

The end result is the same, except I had less control over it.

This person made the mistakes (and after a conflict, agreed to set the most major one right), but then THEY terminated our business relationship unexpectedly, in a very unprofessional manner, leaving me in a situation for which I was not prepared.

Had I paid attention to my gut months ago, I could have saved money (their fees) and aggravation. i could also have created a more smooth transition to extricate them from involvement in my affairs.

My intuition told me to pay attention to the emerging pattern. My gut concurred.

I, however, wanted to believe that this person could and would serve me well in the long run.

When the evidence presented itself, I minimized it, and focused instead on what I wished were true. Not the wisest course of action.

Another lesson learned. Pay attention to the evidence that life provides. Pay attention to your gut. Keep your eyes open and face reality! I think I've got it now!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Cultural Respect

Today I had a little adventure. I took what I thought was going to be a 20 minute walk. I walked from the place I'm staying in Jerusalem to my friend's office in East Jerusalem. The walk took me almost an hour. I miscalculated the distance and it was a long, hot walk.

Most of the walk was in Arab east Jerusalem. A lot of the women in this area are Muslim and they cover their heads. It is a rather conservative area with regards to dress.

I have long hair. It was a windy day today as I took my walk. As I started my walk I realized that my hair was going to blow all over the place.

The purpose of Muslim women covering their heads is to be modest and not to attract male attention. It is for the same reason that many Muslim women dress conservatively and cover most of their skin in public. My blowing hair would stand out against the other women on the street in a major way.

I'm always concerned about being respectful of the the culture that I am visiting. So today, as I started to get towards the Arab areas, I decided to pull my hair to one side and tuck it into my coat. 95% of this action was done to be respectful and to not openly flaunt the common convention in the region. The other 5% was to keep from attracting unwanted attention, or looking out of place.

I get irritated with people who go into a culture different from their own and demand that they be allowed to do what is comfortable for them, no matter what the native cultural conventions are.

I once saw a show about reporters working in dangerous areas. A young, twenty something, woman was going to take photographs in Gaza. They showed her entering Gaza on her first day, walking in the streets with her camera . I muttered under my breath that her shirt was inappropriate for Gaza. She had on a t-shirt that was not low cut, but was scoup necked - revealing a lot of her chest. I thought to myself that someone going in to an area to try to tell the story of the local people should make a little more effort to investigate and be respectful of the culture.

In the very next shot, I chuckled to myself because she appeared with a Keffiah (the head dress/scarf worn by many Arab men) tied around her neck, covering her chest. Someone had given her the same feedback that I had wished to give her!

Certainly we can't be perfectly aware of every culture in the world. That would be impossible. Any effort we make, however, to be respectful of others' ways of doing things will go a long way towards building a more peaceful world.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Institutionalized Discrimination

Whenever I'm here in Jerusalem, it is always a mixed bag of emotions. Being in such an amazingly powerful place, spiritually speaking, is a true pleasure for me.

In the midst of the pleasure, there is always some pain and sorrow.

I had back to back experiences that showed me the truth that without awareness and conscious intervention, history repeats itself.

I spent yesterday at Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Looking at the images of the shameful, dreadful horror that was the holocaust is never an easy experience to engage in. Looking at models of people being put into ovens, films of people being brutally mistreated and led to the slaughter, leaves one in shock at the potential for the inhumane treatment of one another that we humans are capable of. I simply can't fathom what it takes to 'check out' to the point where you could put another human being into an oven, or shoot them from point blank range (or to shoot them at all, actually).

As I looked at the pictures in the museum, there were several that struck me:

* A Jewish man with his prayer shawl on, surrounded by Nazi soldiers who are laughing at him and humiliating him.

* Large groups of Jews sitting in confined areas, guarded by one or two Nazi soldiers.

* Pictures of hungry, suffering mothers holding their children.

These pictures (in addition to all the rest) were painful to look at.

As I walked through the museum with an Arab/Palestinian friend of mine, a few of these photos struck a special chord in us because of their similarity to modern day circumstances in which Palestinians find themselves. You could literally pluck out the Jews from the photos, insert Palestinians... remove the Nazi soldiers and replace them with Israeli soldiers or border police... and you have the same image... unfolding this very day.

I am not going to engage in a debate over the uniqueness of the holocaust in human history, or whether it is right or wrong to compare current experiences to this past atrocity.

In my mind, any inhumane treatment of a human being is unacceptable and indefensible. The scale on which it happens is not what I'm concerned with. Little atrocities, without public outrage... can turn into big atrocities.

Seeing these images of long ago - with people being treated with hatred and disdain... as enemies of those in power... as the 'cause' of all societal ills... made me cringe as I compared them to the current experience in which the Palestinians find themselves.

History repeats itself.

I learned today of one of the many ways, at present, that Arab Palestinians are being mistreated... with the hopes of driving them out of their land. In Jerusalem, near the Dung gate, is an area called Silwan. This area is predominantly Arab. Jewish settlers have purchased property in this region, and have moved in - along with Israeli military protection. Whenever this happens in an Arab area, there is a large disruption to the lives of the native residents of the area. A handful of Jewish residents can create unbelievable hardship for the majority of the residents, not because of the presence of the people themselves, but of the military protection and the 'changes' that are made to 'ensure their security.'

What has happened in Silwan, is that roads have been changed into one ways so as to prevent the Arab residents from reaching their own homes and property without a lengthy and time consuming detour around the old city of Jerusalem. There is a two way street that allows the Jewish residents to go directly to their homes and property. These are recent changes that outrage the long time local residents (Arabs) and create incredible animosity towards the Jewish residents.

Causing inconvenience for 'the many' to give special benefit to 'the few' is not a way to engender good feelings and work towards peace. It will, in fact, always lead in the wrong direction.

The resentment over the disruption and deterioration in the quality of life for the people who've always lived there is going to explode into rage and anger.

Imagine if, in your neighborhood, a new resident moved in with an entourage of security, changed all the routings of your entries into your property, so that it took you 20 minutes instead of 2 to go to the grocery store... or the gas station... or to go to work. Not for one day or two days... but forever. How would you feel about that? Would you accept it and not complain?

I don't think so. Yet, this is exactly what's happening here.

History repeats itself. Small injustices turn into big injustices. Big injustices turn into atrocities.

Not speaking out against the mistreatment of people is a complacency that allows this process to happen. The holocaust is the undeniable example of how this happens. When mistreatment of a group of people is 'justified' or seen as 'acceptable' by increasing numbers of people... we are on our way to horror.

I believe it is the responsibility of every person on the planet to speak out against the dehumanization or mistreatment of any person or group of people whenever they encounter it.

I hope, for all our sake, that the world wakes up to the doom that comes from repeating horrible history. We can and should be better than that!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The One Who Dreamed

My friend here in Jerusalem has a poster on his wall containing some of the text of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

Link to text and video of the speech

If you've never heard it or read it, I encourage you to do so. It is a stirring vision of the world as it could and should be. A world free of racism and oppression. A world of opportunity and equality for all.

I was touched by a story my friend told me about this poster.

A Palestinian friend and handyman was in the apartment doing some repairwork the other day. They were working near the poster and my friend noticed the man staring at the poster. He asked him if he knew who the man on the poster, Martin Luther King Jr. was. The handyman replied, "He is the man who dreamed of Obama!"

This simple reflection conveys much about how people around the world interpret the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency. It is seen as a leap forward in the maturity and evolution of human kind. It represents some sort of quantum shift in paradigms and consciousness.

I'm still giddy over the election myself. I'm just thrilled to be alive at this time!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Greetings From Jerusalem

Marhaba, Shalom and Hello!! :)

Greetings from Jerusalem. i arrived here a few days ago, and am almost recovered from my jet lag. It's good to be back here. I've been away for a year. It's hard for me to believe that!

It's been great to see several of my friends and get caught up on their lives.

I went yesterday to Jericho, the ancient city. I love being there. I ate lunch with a good friend at a Palestinian restaurant there. It is always one of my favorite meals!

The restaurant sits in the shadow of the mt. of temptation, where Jesus spent his 40 days and 40 nights in the desert. (Matthew 4:1-11) It is a powerful place. It always makes me reflect on integrity and the choices that face us when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances.

When Jesus was on the Mount of Temptation, he was presented with several rewards and comforts, if he would turn from the right path. Each time, he resisted the temptation and chose the path of integrity and faith. He did not compromise to ease his discomfort (hunger) or to secure rewards in the physical realm. He stayed the course.

It's a powerful teaching about being in dire circumstances and still choosing the right and best path.

I had a discussion with a client recently. They were suggesting that a questionable choice they made under pressure wasn't necessarily bad because 'it happens all the time' and 'everyone does it.' My response was 'just because everyone does it' and the fact that 'it happens all the time' doesn't make it the 'right.'

Jesus in his experience on the mountain stood firm against the temptations he was presented with. When he passed this test, the angels came and ministered to him, providing him with comfort and relieving the distress caused by the 40 days and nights of fasting. In this story we see that when we take the right course, don't take short cuts and follow our faith, we will eventually be rewarded.

Jesus received what he needed (from the angels) when he did not give in to faster ways of meeting his needs.

In the movie, Cinderella Man, the story of James J. Braddock - the depression era boxer, there is a scene where James Braddock's young son steals a salami from a butcher shop. He is terrified that his parents will not be able to keep he and his siblings at home. He feels that if he can help provide for the family he can prevent that awful outcome. He stole the meat, because he believed it was the only way he could get what he wanted, which was to stay with his parents. He is caught, and his father makes him return the meat and apologize. He gives him a stern talking to about how stealing is no way to address their problems. What's wrong is wrong. He then comfots the boy about his fear of being abandoned. The boy learns a valuable lesson that doing something wrong, even when for good reasons, is still wrong.

Having tough times does not give us license to abandon our beliefs and our integrity. It might be the most important time for us to stand strong in our beliefs and do the right thing. Only then, can the angels minister to us!

When we are in fear, it is easy to be tempted to grasp after something to make us feel more secure or to take away our pain. It is a dangerous way of taking a short cut. That rarely, if ever turns out well.

Standing strong when 'easy answers' present themselves is not a trivial task. It takes a lot of strength and determination. Jesus modeled this beautifully on the mountain. It's an inspiring example for us all!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Winging My Way to My Second Home

As you read this... I'm in the air! I'm on my way to Jerusalem, my second home. I'll be there for two weeks, visiting friends and soaking up the energy of this spiritual power place.

I'll be blogging as usual while I'm there. Sometimes the nature of my blog changes a bit when I'm there. We'll see what happens on this particular trip.

I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving, filled with blessings and gratitude... and turkey! I had a delightful feast with my dear friends in New York City on a brief layover en route from Seattle to Jerusalem.

Next transmission will be from Jerusalem!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving 2008

On this Thanksgiving Holiday, I wish you all a day of warmth, joy and deep gratitude. In the spirit of the day, may we all focus on the bountiful gifts we have received. Whatever state of lack we may be struggling with, may we choose to focus on all that we do have... the true gifts of life and give thanks.

What we focus on expands and grows. Being grateful for all that we haves, draws more of the same to our lives.

If we focus on what we lack, we draw more lack into our lives.

Make a list today of 20 things that you are grateful for. Train your mind to see the glass half full... instead of half empty!

Here's my list:

Nola's Gratitude List... for this moment:

1. Loving family and friends
2. A healthy body
3. The beautiful sunshine in the midst of winter
4. Snow on the mountain tops
5. A fireplace to sit in front of on a cold day
6. My warm, comfortable bed
7. Food to eat
8. Iced tea!!!!!
9. The ability to travel and fly to see people I love
10. Having people to call when I feel low/down
11. My car runs well and gets me where I need to go
12. The ability to help people face their problems
13. The time to hike
14. Clean water to drink
15. Cooking barefoot in my kitchen
16. The crashing waves at the ocean
17. Fresh air to breath
18. The pain in my back is almost gone!
19. Getting a phone call from an old friend unexpectedly
20. Memories of giggling with my niece and mom late one night in the airport


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Compassionate Failure

I wonder why we are all so hard on ourselves all the time!? I've been reflecting on my recent challenges and it's clear to me that I judge myself harshly at times on how I've responded. I demand a lot from myself. I want to handle all things easily and with grace. The fact that I'm human... and imperfect... frustrates the heck out of me at times.

I've felt like I haven't handled some of my challenges very gracefully of late. I've felt bad about that. I am getting back on track now, but as I look back on my behavior and my reactions, I cringe a bit.

A good friend of mine told me a story yesterday about how he had become very angry in a situation where, well, let's just say that it was a bit of a 'spiritual embarrassment' to have a public angry reaction! As he told me the story, and we both chuckled at the 'perfect storm' of circumstances that 'set him up' for an angry reaction, I felt nothing but compassion for him, and wanted to give him a big hug. His 'failure' was nothing in the grand scheme of things. If anything, it was just a grand opportunity to learn some important things about himself, laugh a bit, and try again next time. That's what life is really all about anyway.

Listening to his story, and witnessing my own loving, compassionate embrace of him... AND... what he did, I saw a stark contrast to the way I've been treating myself the past few months. I, at times, have been relentless and unforgiving in my own 'assessment' of how I handled all my challenges of late. i haven't been giving myself 1/2 of the compassion and understanding that I offered my friend yesterday.

I once heard someone say that we should treat ourselves as we would treat a dear friend. What a beautiful model for how we should look at and react to ourselves! The world would be a better place if we all did this!

What is 'failure' anyway? Maybe we define it as not living up to our potential, or to some ideal of how we should be or what we should achieve. Many of us live in constant fear of failure, and sometimes we perceive failure when there isn't one.

One of my favorite quotes is from Rudyard Kipling's poem, "IF." In one stanza he says,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

I believe this is one of the great challenges of life. There is value in triumph... and in disaster. Many of us really have a hard time with the disaster part! Yet... disaster and failure are part of life. They are vital pieces of the tapestry that makes a complete experience and crafts our character.

As I work to have more compassion for myself in the midst of my disasters... and my failures... I am reminded once again that being human means that I won't always do it right... and that will provide some of my greatest opportunities for growth and learning!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Comfort in Diverse Experiences

I wanted to expand a little on what I wrote yesterday. When I actually selected the topic yesterday, I had a specific discussion in mind. It shifted on me mid stream so I followed that track. Today, I want to look at what I originally intended to write about.

I wrote about the fact that within the next week I would move from hiking in the mountains near Seattle to having Thanksgiving in New York City and then move on to a couple of weeks in the middle east. Three completely different worlds in less than a week. Three completely different worlds, and yet, I feel 100% at home in each of them. Each one gives me different gifts and feeds me in a unique way. All are important to me.

I wanted to talk a little bit about what allows a person to be at home in such different circumstances. I touched on one of the main points yesterday, which is having a core self - very stable and solid as a base from which to move through life.

I think there is also a piece of it that has to do with appreciating each experience for what is has to offer... and not what it is lacking. For example, for the most part, I really enjoy a quiet, peaceful environment. When I hike in the woods, it feeds the depths of my soul that loves silence and stillness. Being in New York City obviously does not provide a lot of quiet! In fact, it provides a sometimes overwhelming symphony of constant sound. When I'm in the woods, I revel in the quiet and the peaceful nature of my surroundings. When I'm in New York City, I focus on the diversity of sights and sounds around me. I love to see how many different languages I can hear just walking down a single street. I study the people on their cell phones or engaged in various conversations with their companions as they move along the crowded sidewalks. There, I revel in humanity!

When I'm in the woods alone, I enjoy the fact that no one is talking to me, except for the occaisional greeting in passing. I enjoy my solitude. In New York City, I stand in awe of the fact that I can be in solitude in the midst of a huge group of people. I'm not really speaking to anyone there as I move along the street, but I can enjoy a completely different version of solitude than I get in the woods. When I'm in the middle east, because I am the foreigner... the novelty... everyone wants to speak with me, wherever I go. I enjoy the feeling of connection and oneness.

The key, I believe, is in being able to focus in any given situation, on what's there to experience, enjoy and learn from and learn to roll with what's not there. I don't get upset about the noise in the city. I don't focus on it bugging me. I try to enjoy it as part and parcel of the New York City experience. When in the woods, I don't feel lonely. I revel in the chance for quiet and alone time. When in the middle east, surrounded by people who want to visit with me, I enjoy that feeling of community and connection... and I don't dwell so much on my lack of privacy or alone time.

Learning to focus on what's available to enjoy... and letting the rest go, is a great recipe for adjusting to new circumstances quickly and seamlessly.

Whether something is good... or not-so-good... it will always pass. Why not enjoy each and every opportunity that comes along! It's ALL... LIFE!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Which Part of Me is Showing Up?

I went on a hike this weekend to the top of a small mountain near my home. It was a beautiful, crisp morning. We don’t see too many of those at this time of year around Seattle! I woke up and knew that I needed to take advantage of the gift of a glorious sunny day. I headed out on my hike. What a treat!

As I made my way up the trail, enjoying the snow tinged mountains, emerald green trees, bright sunshine and fragrant smells of the woods, I marveled at the fact that in a few days time I’ll be enjoying the sights and buzz of New York City, and a day after that I’ll be embraced by the ancient and compelling energy of Jerusalem and the desert hills that surround it.

I consider myself to be a creature of habit. I am comforted by routine and predictability. My love of travel, and the thrill I get in moving rapidly from one world to the next seems a bit at odds with my ‘usual’ personality. I’m not quite sure how all this got packaged together in one person!

I do know, however, that there is great value in being able to be ‘fully present’ to whatever circumstance in which we find ourselves. To be able to move from situation to situation, location to location or even from emotion to emotion is one of the key skills to living one’s life well.

Using my example of the three diverse experiences of hiking up a mountain, hanging out in New York City and visiting friends in Israel, it is clear that each situation requires different things from me. The clothing I need for each of these locations is different. The people I encounter in each place will be different and will require a different set of social skills in order to interact with them. My goals in each place will be different. My challenges… and joys will be varied. Yet, through each one of these three distinct experiences, I will be the common denominator. The essential ‘me’ will be present in, and hopefully to, each scenario completely.

All of us can benefit from thinking a bit about how we move through our lives. What part of us is always there? What part of us do we move from no matter where we are or who we are with? What pieces of us express in different situations? Are those parts that only emerge sometimes consistent with the ‘essential core’ of who we are? Are we one way with one group of people and another way with a different group? That can be perfectly fine, for example the way I speak to native English speakers is different from how I speak to native Hebrew or Arabic speakers. I change my way of communicating to be most effective… but the inner essence remains the guide through all those experiences.

We can sometimes check our ‘true self’ at the door in certain relationships or life circumstances… to fit in better… to keep the peace… to make things easier. I have a goal in my life to try to be the ‘authentic me’ as much as I can in ALL of my life circumstances. The difference is between being someone we’re not (which is soul killing) and always coming from our ‘essential self’ and making minor adjustments as necessary to be fully present to each and every unique experience.

Knowing what pieces of ourselves to shift… and which part needs to remain permanently in place is part of the lesson that we all have the opportunity to learn in this life.

I actually have a goal on my goal list every year… to have the ‘me’ that shows up be more and more consistent throughout all my experiences. I spent a lot of my younger life trying to be what everyone else wanted me to be. That can be exhausting! I still have to work at it, but it does get easier as time goes by.

Granted, with my extremely diverse life, I get a lot of practice with this. I don’t really have a choice about it. No matter what your life looks like, however, you can still work on this practice. Cultivate and nurture the ‘essential core’ of who you are… and make the little adjustments needed along the way to fully participate in each and every life experience!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Surrender to the Void

The Bucket List is one of my new favorite movies. That movie is packed full of powerful teachings and messages for us all.

As Edward and Carter, the two men who are facing terminal cancers, are in the midst of a sky dive, Edward yells out “Surrender to the Void…”

How often are we called upon in life to do just that… surrender to the void. We don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, yet we are in the midst of the leap. We have two choices: flail and struggle… or surrender… relax and let go.

I’ve been using that word… surrender… a lot lately. I feel like that is part of my training at the moment. It is something I believe we are all required to do repeatedly in life.

I too have jumped out of an airplane. A good friend of mine and I were each at ‘big birthdays + 1). She was turning 41. I was turning 36. We decided that for our birthday event, we would go sky diving.

It was on my life goal’s list to do this, so I was all for it. Our day arrived and we drove to the airfield. I had that sort of sick feeling in my stomach. You know the one. You want or need to do something, but you really really really don’t want to do it. I was excited, but scared to death.

Long ago, I made a commitment to myself that if I’m ever afraid of something and I WANT to do that thing… I MUST do that thing. I vowed to never let fear stop me from doing anything in life that I want to do. If I’m afraid of something, but don’t want to do it, I don’t have to do that thing. For example, I’m really afraid of rock climbing, but I have absolutely no interest or desire to do that. Therefore, I don’t have to go rock climbing.

Bungee jumping is something I’m afraid to do, but I actually want to do that, so it is on my life goal’s list! See how it works?

At any rate, sky diving was a life goal. My friend and I decided to do it, and there we were that fateful day, getting put into jump suits and strapped up with harnesses.

We were doing tandem jumps with our instructors, which meant we were actually strapped to their chests. It’s as though they are hugging you from behind.

When we arrived, we were assigned our personal instructors. My friend got a very responsible, competent looking/acting young man. I got his alter ego. Another young man… very young, who was a smart-ass, hot dog, hot shot. You could tell by his mannerisms and his attitude that he played fast and free with life and limb! It was very disconcerting.

My friend’s instructor was carefully suiting her up and explaining things to her. My guy was running around telling stories of near disasters, tossing me equipment and sort of half paying attention to how things were attached to my body!

I was somewhat nervous about it, and my friend was REALLY nervous about my guy. She actually suggested I might want to question whether I HAD to go with him! It was that freaky!

I kept remembering a story a minister friend of mine told about a bungee jump that she once did. She was having a similar feeling about her ‘jumping coach’ and reminded herself, “I’m in God’s hands, not this kid’s hands.” I decided to adopt that coping strategy for the anxiety in my mind.

As we got ready to leave the building to walk towards the plane, by instructor said, “Do you want to see the plane?”

I thought it was an odd question, I mean, we were about to walk to the plane and get in it! I just mumbled… “Sure” as we headed out the door. He certainly wasn’t inspiring confidence.

I think the hardest moment in the entire experience was putting my foot out of the plane and onto the strut. It was really happening at that moment.. All my instructor had to do was lean on me a little and we’d be on our way. I had to take a deliberate step to put myself in that position. That was the hardest moment of all.

As I stood there on the strut, my instructor indicated that it was time to go… and away we went! We began our free fall, and he was whooping and hollering in delight. It was pretty awesome!! Then suddenly he whipped his body around and we were facing upwards looking at the plane! That’s what he meant! We slowly turned back around to face the ground, and he whipped us back around again to look at the plane as it left us behind. I think he did that 3 times! I had no idea that was what he was asking me about as we had walked out of the building before the jump!

As we fell, I was aware of only two things at first. The stinging sensation on my face as we fell through a cloud was somewhat painful. It was like little ice crystals hitting me in the face. Suddenly I became aware that my mouth was wide open! I mean wide open! No sounds were coming out… I have no idea what that was about. Later, when my friend and I compared notes, it was revealed that she had the same experience. Why our mouths were hanging open initially, with no sounds coming out, remains a mystery! We both caught ourselves with this rather silly expression and closed our mouths.

The free fall was a really powerful experience. I was no longer scared. There was no time to be scared. All there was time for was SENSATION. I was fully in that moment, experiencing everything as it happened.

When the parachute finally opened, it was unlike anything I could have imagined. First, it was totally silent. When I was free falling, there was of course the yelling of my instructor, but what I was most aware of was the sound of the air whistling in my ears as we fell. It was loud! Once the parachute was open, it was quiet, peaceful…calm. We simply floated gently towards the earth. I was able to look all around, and see the world from an entirely new perspective.

It was an amazing gift. It was a gift I never could have received if I hadn’t “Surrendered to the void.”

I’ve drawn upon my sky diving experience many times in the years since it happened. It is a great metaphor for the leap of faith and the risks we sometimes have to take in life to move ourselves along.

I wouldn’t say it ever gets ‘easy’ to surrender to the void, but I do think it gets EASIER as time goes by. We have to cultivate that as a skill… surrendering. If we cultivate it deliberately along the way, we are more able to do it in times of difficulty when it is harder than normal.

How can you practice surrendering to the void? The possibilities are endless! Just pick one and go to it!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Importance of Relaxation

When I was a child, my mom signed me up for summer classes through an organization known as the Valley Arts Association. They had pottery classes and all sort of programs for kids. I know I took several of these classes, as did my two brothers. My only memories, however, are of the strange pottery faces that my brothers made in their class, and one specific class on relaxation that I took.

As I think back on it, I marvel that they had such a class for little kids. I was very young. I’m not sure what the class actually was, but I know that they taught us a progressive muscle relaxation technique, where you lie on the floor, close your eyes, and work your way through your body tensing and releasing groups of muscles.

I remember loving this exercise. It really worked for me.

Even as a small child I struggled with depression, anxiety and emotional sensitivity. I’ve just always had this ‘dark side’ that required me to engage with it. It’s not a lot of fun, but it’s been my reality from a young age.

That fateful day when they taught me progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) was one of the most important days of my life. I was probably six years old, and to this day, PMR is still a tool that I rely on when I’m feeling stressed, overwhelmed or if I’m having trouble getting to sleep.

I used it throughout my entire childhood. Then, when I went into therapy for my eating disorder at age 19, one of the first things my counselor, Dr. Chuck Bruni, did was to give me a ‘relaxation tape’ that was a guided PMR exercise! I took that as a serious sign that I was in the right place, since I already knew the value of that particular technique in my life.

I still have that PMR tape, burned onto a CD and propagated to my IPOD in this day and age. Although I don’t use the entire tape often, I still will use PMR at times when I know I need to relax and calm down.

This past week, I had a couple of nights where I was emotionally upset and very angry. I was almost sure I wouldn’t be able to go to sleep. I brought out my IPOD with my 20 year old PMR program on it, and went through the process. Within 20 minutes I was relaxed, my mind was calm, and I was ready to sleep. I drifted off both nights without any trouble.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is super simple, and super powerful. If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to do so.

Here are some resources that I found that describe the technique well:

Wikipedia's Article on Progressive Muscle Relaxation

About.Com's Article on PMR's Article on PMR

I’m a believer! I hope that you will find Progressive Muscle Relaxation as much of a gift as I have!

Here is a writing by my late counselor/teacher/mentor, Dr. Chuck Bruni, on the importance of relaxation:


Relaxation Training – why it’s important
Learning how to deeply relax and center your body-mind is an important life skill. Knowing how to relax at this level is very important to your physical and emotional health. Relaxing deeply makes the process of growing and changing easier and less stressful.

While you were in the womb, and during the first months of your life, you knew perfectly well how to relax deeply. As you grew up in a less than perfect culture and family, you learned to continuously tighten, flex, and tense various muscle groups in your body. You learned to store a number of emotions and memories in your tissue that are still there today on an unconscious level. This tension, fear, and emotional baggage in your body needs to be released for you to heal physically and emotionally. It is possible for you to learn to let your body again experience its natural state of relaxation. Or, stated more accurately, you need to UNLEARN how to stress and strain your body. You can relearn to give your body permission to go back to the state of affairs it has always known and wanted to reach.

Deep Relaxation

The state of relaxation I am talking about is not the same as the relaxed feeling one experiences while sewing, playing golf, going to a ballgame, or fishing, etc. Sometimes, clients state they do not need to learn how to relax because they have hobbies, sports or arts/crafts activities that help them to unwind. Those types of relaxing activities are important and needed. What I am talking about though is relaxation at a deeper level. Through deep muscle relaxation, the body is allowed to return to its natural equilibrium or "centered" state.

I reccomend Progressive Muscle Relaxation as a technique to learn what must be learned and unlearn what must be unlearned.

Why is Relaxation so Important?
Connecting With Your Energetic-Spiritual Essence
For millions of years, humans all over the earth have realized there is a force in the universe that is larger than themselves. Most people when they really think about it, believe there is an energy, presence, power, or intelligence that has created them and the entire universe. Some would call this phenomenon God, Christ consciousness, or Shiva. Others would say it is the Great Spirit. Still others might call it their "basic nature," Higher Self, Higher Power, Force, Infinite intelligence, God within, or Unified Field. No matter how a person might conceptualize it, most of us sense a deeper force or US within.

Whatever it is called, we each have a place of peace, wisdom, intuition, love, power and oneness inside that can be a great resource in living our life. One key to getting in touch with this state of being is relaxing and centering. You need to let your body and mind become "like a duck on a lake at sunset" to tap into that place. This is a resource that many of us do not ‘tap in’ to very often, yet it is always available to us. Learning to tap in to this resource can greatly enrich our lives and empower us to live more and more fully.

The energy of the universe expresses the qualities of love, joy, peace, wisdom, creativity, power, and unity. Being in touch with this energy is the single most important resource we have for living. When we are able to live through our deep energetic-spiritual essence we experience more love, joy, peace, and power in our life. When we are cut off from it, we develop ways of living that create hurt, pain, fear, anger, and separation in our life.

An important first step in reconnecting with your energetic-spiritual essence is relearning how to operate in a more relaxed state. When you are relaxed and trying to concentrate or make a decision, it is as if you were doing so in a quiet library. When you are not relaxed, and attempt to concentrate or make a decision, it is as if you were doing so in Grand Central Station! Which one sounds like it would produce a better end result? It is much easier and much less stressful to come from a place of quiet, calm and peace. That is because when we are quiet and at peace, we can ‘tap in’ to our inner wisdom… our connection to the source of infinite wisdom and intelligence. The first step to learning to cultivate that quiet mind state is to learn to relax the body mind.

Decreasing/Eliminating Stress Damage to your Body/Mind
All animals, including humans, have an instinctual protective reaction built into their DNA and nervous system called the “flight or fight” response. This autonomic nervous system response physically prepares an animal to flee from danger or fight to the death. When in this response, the heart rate increases, and blood leaves the stomach to enter the extremities. More oxygen goes to the brain, and the glands pump a number of secretions into the blood stream. The animal attains its maximum performance level mentally and physically.

In humans the flight or fight response developed millions of years ago to help protect us against saber-toothed tigers, wooly mammoths, and other life-death situations. It was to be used occasionally when we were in physical danger. Because of the development of written language and the rational logical mind, humans for the first time began to develop psychological fears. They started to experience the flight or fight response when they felt psychologically threatened, rather than just physically threatened. The vast majority of Americans are in a modified flight-fight response twenty-four hours a day! They are always on edge or tense in some part of their body. This creates a state that is commonly called “chronic stress”.

Living in this manner is extremely destructive to the human body-mind. Chronic stress leads to increased metabolic rate, heart rate and circulation, which taxes the heart. It causes an increase in blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, stomach acid, and blood sugar. Immune system function is compromised by stress, making us more vulnerable to sickness and disease. Chronic stress is also a major contributor to depression, sleep problems, and anxiety. It greatly increases free radical production that leads to the destruction of body cells and speeds the development of cancer. Many medical researchers think that chronic stress is one of the primary causes of disease and illness in modern humans.

Increased Self Awareness (Inwardly and Outwardly)
Relearning how to deeply relax is one of the best ways to become more aware of your thoughts, feelings, body sensations and inner consciousness. It also helps you become more aware of what others are thinking and feeling. As you slow down the chatter and static in your body-mind, the signals from within and without are amplified and made clearer. An analogy might be drawn between reading a difficult book in a quiet library versus Times Square during rush hour. Greater awareness is one of the cornerstones of personal growth and change.

When we were growing up we had to shut down parts of our awareness in order to cope with the stresses of childhood and adolescence. The greater the amount of stress in our family, the greater the amount of dissociation, denial, or numbness we had to create to survive emotionally. It is safe now to become fully awake and aware again.

Decreasing/Eliminating Negative Word Chatter
Often people find they are bothered by negative ruminations going through their mind. They cannot get to sleep at night, or do well in certain situations because the voice in their head is constantly going over negative material.

The body and mind are one and the same process. One way to help quiet the mind is to relax your body thoroughly. While relaxed, repeat in your head statements such as "I am quiet and relaxed, my body and mind are calm, relaxed and quiet".

Recharging or Re-Creating your Mind/Body
Relaxation is a true form of recreation for your body and mind. Studies have shown that 10-15 minutes of deep muscle relaxation during the day can have the benefit of up to two hours of nighttime sleep. Rather than having a cup of coffee and some sugary pastry as an energy pick me up, use a 10-minute relaxation break to recharge your batteries and create a sense of peace. This type of break restores your strength and vitality by allowing your body-mind to shift into its rebuilding-healing mode.

Enhancing communication and listening skills
One of the biggest problems in communication is the inability of people to listen to each other. Most individuals, due to anxiety, self-consciousness, or anger cannot hear what another person is saying. Instead, they focus on their inner chatter and what they want to say to the other person. If an individual can learn to mellow out and relax with people, their ability to listen and talk with others will greatly improve.

Decreasing/Eliminating Fear, Anger and Anxiety
A person can't be relaxed and fearful, relaxed and angry or relaxed and anxious! Relaxation is an incompatible feeling state with those three feelings. If you want to reduce the amount of fear, anger or anxiety in your life, learn to relax in situations that bring up those feelings.

Deep muscle relaxation is one of the primary techniques used in overcoming phobias, shyness, anxiety or anger in interpersonal situations. Also, in order to learn how to be assertive in effective ways, it is necessary to know how to fully relax yourself.

Enhancing Problem Solving Skills
Most of us grew up watching our parents and older siblings become upset each time there were life or family stresses. When things did not turn out the way they wanted, family members tried to problem solve through being scared, angry, frustrated, critical, or depressed. Being in such a state closes down left hemisphere functioning, reducing intellectual ability. It shorts circuits right hemisphere functioning, which reduces our intuitive gut intelligence. It also causes a tightening of body muscles, which reduces flexibility and the capacity to move to protect ourselves. Lastly, it causes us to get stuck emotionally.

An upset person is in their worst problem-solving stance! Yet most of us were trained at a young age to get upset when we encounter life problems. You have to retrain yourself to become centered and peaceful in the face of stress or conflict. Once you are totally peaceful, then you can come up with powerful creative solutions to solve the issue at hand. You will relearn how to be proactive rather than reactive when under stress.


Relaxation is an extremely powerful body-mind skill it is important to re-learn. Knowing how to relax deeply produces incredibly important benefits physically, mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.