Friday, May 30, 2008

Iraq and Vietnam - Some Things Never Change

I am endeavoring to learn more about the non-violent resistence teachings of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohatma Gandhi. Today I was listening to a recording of a speech given by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I was astonished to hear some of the statements that Dr. King made regarding Vietnam. The statements he made were earily relevant to our current situation in Iraq.

I believe that the similar nature of these two wars (and war in general) is worth thinking about for any person who cares about the future of the human race on planet earth.

Here are some of the quotes I took from Dr. King:

"We are a society gone mad on war, drawing men, skills and money like a destructive, sucking tube."

"We are using 'massive doses of violence' to attempt to solve our problems."

"It should be incandescently clear that noone with any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes entirely poisoned, part of the autopsy must read.... VIETNAM. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over."

When explaining why he needed to speak out against the Vietnam war he said the time had come to "Break the betrayal of my own silences."

"We again fell victim to the deadly western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long."

Dr. King quoted one of the Buddhist leaders of the day as saying, "Each day the war goes on the hatred increases, in the hearts of the Vietnamese, and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their freinds into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they aer incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never agian be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

"Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and Non Violence, when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of our selves. For from his view, we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition. If we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition."

*********************end of quotes*********

All of these statements contain great wisdom and truth for the moment in which we find ourselves. When we don't learn our lessons, history repeats itself. That is the order of the universe. What we do not learn from in history, we are doomed to repeat.

Is it about time to learn some lessons about the futility of violence as a means of attempting to solve our problems as people. Violence has never brought peace and it never will.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

What Saying Thank You Says About You

I've been thinking a lot about gratitude lately. I have another angle to share on this most important topic.

Last year, I made a sizable donation to a church where my grandfather preached many years ago. They needed to repair the bell tower. I donated money, in my grandfather's name, on behalf of my family to pay for a portion of the needed repair.

I received a receipt from the church's treasurer, but did not receive even a small note of thanks from the minister. I was pretty shocked. I did not make the donation so that I would be thanked. I was, however, shocked that, a minister would not personally acknowledge a sizable gift that was helping to solve a serious problem for the congregation. I had met with this minister personally and he was well aware of me, my family and our connection to his congregation. It seemed 'off' to me.

When I was sitting at lunch with my aunt and uncle this weekend, we were talking about the 'lost art' of writing thank you notes. When I was a child, I was taught to acknoweldge gifts I received by writing thank you notes. It's just what you did. Now-a-days, it seems that thank you notes are not the social convention. I think that's a shame.

When we express gratitude, I believe we send out a message to the universe that opens the door to receive even more good. When we receive gifts and don't acknowledge or outwardly appreciate them in any way, I believe we send the universe another message: that this really isn't important to us and it doesn't matter if we get more of it or not.

Apply that concept to my story about the minister not acknowledging a gift. If that sends a message out to the universe that says, "this isn't important to me," what might happen to contributions to his ministry?

The aunt I was lunching with, gave the perfect counter example to my story. She knits/crochets baby blankets for many of her relatives. She rarely receives thank you notes. She has a friend who is a close friend of Michael Douglas, (Wall Street, Romancing the Stone). When Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones had their baby, she sent them one of her beautiful blankets. Guess what? She received a personal thank you note from them for the gift! These remarkably wealthy and successful people, acknowledged and appreciated the gift of a total stranger.

To me, I believe that their attitude is what propelled them to the immense levels of success that they enjoy.

A small, struggling church community that doesn't acknowledge the gifts/donations they receive, versus tremendously successful people who acknowledge the gift of a stranger. There is some wisdom being revealed here!

Appreciate what you have. Appreciate what you are given. Acknowledge what the universe supplies you with and you will receive more of it. ignore what the universe supplies you with and watch that supply dwindle further.

A pretty simple concept that is pretty easy to implement. What do we have to lose??

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What Could You Do With 10 Million Dollars A Day?

I saw a statistic in the news this morning on CNN. The U.S. Airforce spends $10,000,000 dollars a day... on fuel. Ten million dollars a DAY! It breaks my heart.

Think of all the starving people in the world. Think of the thousands and thousands of homeless people in China after the massive earthquake and aftershocks they have experienced. The suffering in Myanmar after the cyclone. The devastated lives of Hurricane Katrina. The people dying in Africa from Aids. So many causes that could benefit from attention and cash.

Yet, we, as a country, spend $10,000,000 a day... on fuel for planes.

Something is drastically wrong with our priorities. Drastically... wrong.

We haven't touched on the Army, or the Marines, or the Coast Guard's fuel costs. Let along the costs of being involved in two wars simultaneously - whose cost would make the Air Force's fuel cost look like chump change.

My teacher used to say, 'what we focus on and give our attention, time and resources to' expands and grows.

What are we focused on and giving our resources to? War... or Peace?

I heard it said once that you can tell a lot about your priorities by looking at your checkbook and seeing where your money goes.

Our 'collective' US checkbook tells a sad story at the moment. I shudder to think of the 'cost' (in money, human lives and misdirected potential) that our current path is extracting. It is a staggering amount to be sure.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Count Your Blessings

I was driving through a small country town this past weekend and drove passed a little church. On their sign it said, "Do Your Math. Count Your Blessings." It reminded me that it is important for all of us to stop focusing so much on what we lack... and to have gratitude for what we do have.

It is so easy to focus on the negative. To keep our eyes firmly fixed on what is lacking and what we wish we had. Yet, all around us, are blessings galore. To just stop, each day, and focus on 5 things that we HAVE and are GRATEFUL for... can revolutionize our life!

What we focus on grows and expands. If we focus on what we lack... guess what? Lack expands. We see more lack and experience more scarcity. If we focus on what we have, and are grateful for it, guess what happens? We get more of what we appreciate.

Appreciate what you have and you will get more of it. Focus on the best of what you have, and you will attract more of that and even better.

We can greatly enhance our life experience by learning to appreciate and give thanks for all that we DO have. In this moment now.

Take care of what you have. Instead of complaining about your old, beat up car - clean it up, spruce it up and be grateful for it. That is the way to find yourself in a snazzy, wonderful new car!

If we don't appreciate and take care of what we have, we will never get what we say (and think) we want. It's a universal law. We will never be trusted with 'greater things' until we take good care of 'lesser things.' Think about that.

Saying, "I'll take better care of my car when I have a nicer car" is to postpone a 'right relationship' to our posessions. When we say "WHEN" we basically postpone our good. Think about that.

Today, stop and identify 5 things that you are glad to have in your life. A relationship? A posession? A sunset? Just find 5 things that you are happy to have in your life at the moment. Simple. Do it for a month and you will transform your life.

Count your blessings. Old advice that is very wise!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day

This weekend, I participated in several family 'rituals' that have great significance for me. It is memorial day weekend. It is the time when we remember those who have passed from our physical midst, into the great beyond. I enjoy this time each year, even though it is a bitter sweet.

I have had a lot of special people pass away from this physical plane. My father, two uncles, two spiritual teachers, many other relatives and some close friends. All contributed something to my life. All are no longer walking among us on the earth.

I spent time in two cemeteries this weekend. One where my father and many of his family members are buried. My grandparents, both sets of great grand parents, uncles, aunts, great aunts, great uncles and distant relatives. I put a single rose on most of my relatives' graves, and special bouquets on my father's grave, my grandparents' grave and my uncle's grave. In those special bouquets, I put roses that match the singles I put on all the other relatives graves. To me, it ties everyone together. I think of each person as I put the flower(s) on their grave. It is my way to remember their influence and impact on my life.

The other cemetery I visit is where my mother's parents are buried. Usually a few relatives gather for this day. We connect, clean and decorate the grave, and remember.

It is comforting to me, to know that many years after these people have left the planet, we are there, every year... remembering them. They mattered. They impacted life for many of us. To pause, reflect, and acknowledge that is to honor their lives.

On this memorial day... take a moment to remember any person who no longer walks the earth... that mattered to you and your life experience. It is an easy way to honor those whom have helped you on your path.

"Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things"
~ Cicero

Friday, May 23, 2008

Overcoming Resistance

It's amazing to me how we can resist doing the things we know we need to do. Exercise and eating right are two things that trouble many of us. We can find unlimited excuses and reasons to 'postpone' doing what is best for us. Amazing.

I was reflecting on my own battle with exercise and how easy it is to 'put off until tomorrow' what should be done... TODAY.

For years, I struggled with myself about doing my 30 minutes on the treadmill on a daily basis. I would put it off, always with some incredibly valid reason for 'starting tomorrow.' My procrastination methods worked. I never got to it.

There was a turning point for me. It's when I decided to push through my resistance and make myself get on the treadmill every day, even if it was only for 5 minutes. If I had 'put it off' until the very end of the day, I would still make myself get on the treadmill even for just a few minutes. This was a HUGE breakthrough.

With this seemingly small act, I started to prove to myself that my procrastination efforts would not win. UP to this time, because I had some 'all or nothing' thinking, my procrastination efforts paid off. If I waited until too late in the day, I just wouldn't 'exercise.' The procrastination won... and gained power.

When I made the decision that I had to put my workout clothes on... even if for a short 5 minutes on the treadmill, I started to 'prove' to myself that I really meant business. As soon as I did this, I started to make progress towards my daily goal of doing 30 minutes of cardio on the treadmill.

It's very important to not be a prisoner of the 'all or nothing' mentality. If we feel that there is only 'one' outcome we can work towards (doing 100% of our goal) it is far too easy to find reasons why we don't have time, energy, etc. to accomplish that goal. When we except 'less than' our ultimate goal, we start to realize that the 'effort' is what's important... not the outcome.

Whatever your goal is, start allowing yourself to do part of it on the days when you really don't feel like doing it at all. You'll start to PROVE to yourself that you can be trusted to 'engage' with your commitments and you'll start to find it easier and easier to actually do what you intend to do!

I'm pretty consistent with my cardio now. It is a result of consistently proving to myself that I'm in it for the long haul and will not be deterred by busy days and over committed time schedules. I WILL give myself some of what I need... every single day!

Try it!!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Weeds Will Take Over if You Let Them

Wow. Spring is in full swing here in the magnificent Pacific Northwest. Everything is growing like crazy!

One of my landscapers came to my front door the other day. When I answered, he said, "I'm so happy to see that you are ok!" When I asked why he was concerned he said, "I thought maybe something happened to you... because your garden is such a MESS!"

Well. I knew that I was a little behind in my weeding. It's been so cold here. I haven't been able to get myself out to weed as much as I normally would by this time of year. I didn't, however, think it was 'quite that bad' out there!

I was having lunch with a friend the other day, and he was telling me about a video game that his young daughter likes. One of the 'challenges' in the game is that weeds appear in your yard from time to time. If you keep up with removing them, you are fine. If, however, you let the weeds continue to multiply unchecked, within a very short period of time you spend all your time pulling weeds (and not playing the actual game) and you NEVER catch up. The weeds take over your life... and doom you to a hollow existence.

This is definitely possible in a garden setting. I've experienced it. When I let certain weeds get out of control, I pay a huge price in more energy and time expended to 'deal with them' later on. A little effort early in 'the game' saves endless time 'later in the game.'

This is also true in our thinking. We have good, productive, healthy thoughts and we have what I would call, "weed thoughts." Weed thoughts take mental and emotional resources to have them and maintain them. Just like weeds in a garden take nutrients and water away from near by desirable plants, weed thoughts siphen off energy and motivation from healthy, motivating and positive thoughts. It's a resource issue. We don't have unlimited energy or mental and emotional resources. If we allow our energy to be sucked into dead end addictive, obsessive, negative, defeating thoughts, we simply don't have the same available energy to move ourselves forward and cultivate the life of our dreams.

Just like weeds are easy to remove when they first appear, weed thoughts are easy to shut down when they first get started in our mind. Weeds in the soil can put down deep roots, and/or spread their seeds fairly rapidly. Weed thoughts too can put down deeper roots and propogate into other realms of thought more quickly than we can even believe. Pulling the weed, or extracting the weed thought when we first become aware of it, can save us immense time, energy and heartache later on. This diligence of awareness and willingness to take immediate action, is what is critical, in the gardening of our physical spaces and our mental/emotional landscape.

If you ever work with 'weeds' in the garden, I encourage you to study their habits and what it takes to eradicate them and keep them under control. Then, apply these exact same principles as you cultivate your mental and emotional lanscape! You will be well served!

Happy gardening!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Bit of Perspective

By now we've all heard about the devastating cyclone in Myanmar and the deadly earthquake in China. Both are natural disasters of gigantic proportions. A sad and difficult to absorb loss of life and property. Something that we have a lot of trouble understanding or relating to here in the US (with the exception of those who experienced the horror of hurricane Katrina.)

I was chatting with a friend last week, and he was talking about how cold the weather was where he lived. He was complaining actually. Something I also do more regularly than I care to admit!

Then, as my friend complained about how cold it was and how uncomfortable it made him, he read a headline on the internet about the death toll from the earthquake in China. "Oh my God! 25,000 killed in the earthquake in China... and I'm complaining about the cold!"

That led us to have an interesting discussion about perspective. I have continued to reflect on this. It's amazing to me how caught up with get in things that don't really matter. I myself suffer from chronic impatience and often have internal angst when things don't happen on my time line. Or I, like my friend, focus on something that is making me 'uncomfortable' and feel indignant that the situation exists!

And then... something like Myanmar or China occurs, and I'm once again reminded that I am so extraordinarily lucky. I am so incredibly blessed. As 'grateful' as I try to be, I know that I spend a lot of time taking for granted my many blessings and the gift of the abundant life that I am fortunate enough to live.

My friend's comment was a good reminder. I have a home. I have food to eat. I have work that I love. I have my family, my friends, and my health. I want for nothing, really. Most people in the world do not have what I have. All I should be is extremely grateful. Complaining should be the last thing I ever consider doing!

Take some time to count your blessings today. So many people, all over this world, count it a good day when they simply survive. If you aren't in that boat... you have much to be grateful for.

Like I found some perspective with my friend's comment, I hope you will find some perspective from this discussion.

Also, consider exercising your place in the family of humanity and make a donation to the International Red Cross. I think it says something to our world community and to ourselves when we recognize that we are all part of the same family. When someone in China, Myanmar, Iraq or the US suffers, we all suffer. Make a small donation... it doesn't have to be large. Just let the suffering members of your family know that you care. Expand your notion of family, and reach out. It means the world to those who have lost everything.

Interntional Red Cross/Red Crescent:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

How to Measure a Life

I wrote once about the movie "The Bucket List" and how much I LOVED it! At the time, however, I didn't have the quote I most appreciated from the opening of the film.

I was fortunate enough to get to see it on a flight recently, and was able to write down the quote (or at least a close approximation of it).

Morgan Freeman's character is narrating and raises the issue of how to measure a life:

"It's difficult to know how to measure a life.

Some say its measured by the ones left behind.

Some say by faith...

Some say by love...

Other say life has no meaning at all.

Me... I believe you measure yourself by the people who meansure themselves by you."

I love the last line of this quote. What would our world look like if each of us had the goal to live our lives in such a way that others would want to immitate us, or aspire to live the way we lived? I think we'd have an amazing world indeed.

THere is no greater compliment, in my opinion, than when someone uses my behavior, my attitude or my approach to living as an example for themselves. We all influence each other each and every day. If we are sloppy in our values or our principles, we unwittingly give others permission to behave in the same way.

I'm not advocating being self righteous or acting 'holier than thou.' I'm merely suggesting that we shouldn't behave in ways we find unacceptable and then expect those around us to 'do as we say... and not as we do.'

I once saw a bumper sticker that said, "Drive the way you would want your kid to drive." What a great thought! If we each applied this principle to the living of our lives in total, we could transform the world into a much more loving and peaceful place.

Every time we are making a decision about how to act or behave, if we ask the question, 'would I want someone I really care about to do this?' we might just find that we make some different choices!

I like the following quote by Thomas Fuller, "Govern thy life and thoughts as if the whole world were to see the one, and read the other."

Words to live by.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Eruption of Mt. St. Helens

May 18, 1980 we here in the pacific northwest witnessed a stunning natural event: the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Today is the 28th Anniversary of that event. It was a Sunday, just like today.

It was violent, it was indescribably powerful and it was a bit frightening. People died on the mountain that day. Ash coated many areas of the northwest and the wind carried the ash further than anyone could have believed.

My mother was a counselor at a Christian Camp on Spirit Lake in her teen years. We have a marvelous picture of her with the pristine mountain in the background with Spirit lake behind her. A famous photo of the post eruption mountain was taken from almost the same vantage point. It is a stunning comparison (my apologies for not posting those two photos, but I don't have them with me).

In my home town, Forest Grove Oregon, we got a fairly decent coating of the ash. I was 16 years old and was working at Jan's Food Mill on that fateful day. I was the Sunday morning hostess. My jobs were to prepare the dining room for the Sunday brunch and to cut up pineapples, honeydew melons and other various fruits... among other things. That morning, my mother called me at the restaurant and wanted me to come home. I remember chuckling and thinking... exactly what will my coming home do to deal with the fact that the volcano is erupting? I stayed at work and did my job. I had a strong work ethic, even then. :)

A co-worker and friend of mine arrived at work, with an 'ash dusting' in her Afro! It was pretty surreal. We walked outside and observed the ash falling from the sky. It was quite bizarre... the darkness in broad daylight, and a natural phenomenon occurring in our presence. We knew we were witnessing something historic, and something we would remember all our lives. 28 years later, the day is still one of the most vivid in my life's history.

To this day, driving down I-5 around the Toutle River, you can still see the 'man made' hills of ash. You wouldn't know that's what they are, if you see them today. They are covered with brush, and some small trees. When they first appeared, they were barren piles of gray volcanic dust. Those of us who've driven that freeway for the past 30 years know exactly what we're looking at. It's something I always point out to tourists.

Nature is powerful. Lest we ever think we can contain it, let's remember that the mysteries of mother earth and this universe will never be predictable or totally explainable from our human level of understanding!

Here are some interesting websites about Mt. St. Helens and the surrounding area:

Here are some photos of the mountain: Pre-eruption, during eruption... and in around 1996.

Mt. St. Helens - Pre Eruption

The Eruption - May 18, 1980

Me and a friend at Mt. St. Helens ~1996

In honor of those who died on the mountain that fateful day in 1980... and in reverence and respect for the power of mother nature... we observe this day!

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Burst of Fresh Green

I was away from Seattle for 5 days. Only 5 short days. When I returned home and looked around my property, it was as though I'd stepped into a new world.

Almost all the trees are in full foliage now. When I left, there were still many unfurled leaves. Now, the woods have filled in, and that crisp, fresh, light green literally fills the air.

The trees up close to my house are completely covered in leaves. The perenial grasses have started to sprout their new crop.

I always feel incredibly inspired by this site. The promise of new life is present everywhere as that indescribable green appears and fills the previously winter-barren space. It reminds me that something 'new' is alwasy possible. It shows me that no matter how dark and cold the winter... that a brighter, warmer, more promising future awaits.

The sunlight looks different shining on those fresh green leaves. It sparkles and tantalizes.

The birds seem happier and are definitely more active. I hear more birdsongs which also cheers the soul.

Take a look around today. Spring (at least in this neck of the woods) is upon us. Life returns after the long, cold, dark, barren winter. It always has... and it always will. We can count on it!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Fighting Off the Bug!

Funny how we often resist taking the time to take care of ourselves proactively. Yet when we end up sick, we often have no choice but to take time off and rest. This seems backwards to me, yet I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else.

In fact, I can feel a bug 'working on me' at this very moment. I've been traveling, and not sleeping extremely well. I've had a lot of ill people in close proximity to me. I've kept up on my vitamin C and have tried to take precautions.

Now, I feel a bit of the creeping crud symptoms I've observed around me (sore throat, a bit of a temperature, general feeling of mailaise and fatigue).

I'm sitting at the crossroads. I have much to catch up on, but I don't feel well. Do I 'push through' and get some work done? Or do I take the night off, pour myself into a hot bath and rest?

I think I've learned my lesson in days past and from watching others. I'll take the night off and nurture myself as much as I can. I still might not avoid the 'crud,' but its the best chance I have.

Learning to nurture ourselves when we need to is a tricky undertaking in life. There is always something important to do. There is always a reason to keep pushing ourselves. Learning to STOP and rest is a difficult proposition.

On that note... the tub is calling my name. I'm off to 'nurture.' :)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rolling the Ants

I consider myself to be a non-violent person. I don't believe in settling disagreements and conflict with violence: not on a personal level and not on collective level.

I have taken many trips to Bali. I have a good friend there who has taught me a lot about Balinese culture and the unique version of Hinduism practiced on Bali. We have had many discussions about various religions, and their teachings on peace, treating people with respect, and how to handle situations the way God would want us to.

On a past trip to Bali, I was sitting with this friend eating breakfast. We were having one of our philosophical, religious discussions about life. As I was eating my food, I noticed that there was a line of tiny ants crawling across the table towards my plate and the sugar bowl. I watched them on their path and finally decided I really didn't want ants in my food! I tried to brush them away and off the table. I did this sweeping motion a couple of times and my friend said, "So... I thought you were non-violent." I said that I considered myself to be.

He said, "Then why did you crush the ant bodies?"

I said, "I just didn't want them in my food."

He said, "But you rolled and crushed their little bodies, because they were looking for food."

It was a moment for me. I didn't consider what I did to the ants to be violent. It seemed 'different' to me, but to my friend, who looks through another lens of perspective, I had handled the situation with violence.

It caused me to reflect on the nature of violence. It doesn't always have to be a physical attack on another person. It can be something as simple as physically brushing away a pest (and causing them some sort of harm in the process).

It can also be as simple as the thoughts we have in our minds. One of my teachers, Jack Boland, used to invite us to ask ourselves the following question: "Are there people who aren't safe walking down the streets of your mind?" It's a very good question. We can be violent to people by the thoughts that we think about them inside ourselves.

When we commit to a path of non-violence, we have to tend to all these areas. Our physical actions with people are one consideration. Our treatment of creatures of the earth is another area. Also our thoughts and how we treat people internally needs to be tended to. It's all part of the path of non-violence.

It's too easy to think we are non-violent if we don't resort to hitting people when we need to resolve something. Dig deeper... and clean out the corners. I'm finding all sort of interesting things lurking in there!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Imperfect Donuts

I had an interesting experience at Starbuck’s yesterday. A friend and I were in Manhattan and went to a Starbucks for our morning cup of coffee. I ordered a bagel and my friend had an old fashioned donut.

As the barista got our pastries from the case, she asked my friend, “Do you mind if your donut has a bit of a break in it?”

My friend answered that she didn’t mind at all.

The barista told us we’d be surprised at how many people return pastries if they are not perfect.

I thought this was very interesting. What is it, in us that would object to an imperfect donut? Why would it be important for a donut to be perfectly intact in order for us to enjoy it? Is there something about the continuity of its physical form that enhances its flavor?

I do understand that we eat partially with our eyes. Having food that appeals to all our senses, smell, site and taste enhances the experience. I get that. I do.
To be addicted to a ‘perfect appearance’ however, seems a bit dysfunctional to me. I think about the chemicals we use to produce picture perfect fruits and vegetables. I wonder if ingesting all those chemicals is worth the perfect appearance.

This carries over into our relationship to our physical bodies, our clothing, and our home furnishings. We can get carried away with the desire to have things look perfect, to the point where we miss the value that exists in the thing itself.
I often will eat the ‘imperfect’ cookies or rolls from a batch, and save the best for my guests. I want to give the best of what I have to my loved ones. I would never dream of throwing away the ‘imperfect’ specimens however, and if all of my cookies were imperfect, I certainly hope I would go ahead and share them, because they too would be the best I had to offer at that moment in time.

It’s an internal evaluation system worth examining. I know that my run in with the imperfect donut yesterday has altered the way I will look at some of my choices in life.

I want to be careful not to get sucked into a belief system where I will not accept imperfect things, people or experiences into my life. Imperfection is unavoidable, and is in many ways a great teacher for us in our life journey. Learning to embrace imperfection is a wonderful practice!

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Dangers of Integrated Preschool

I have a sad story to tell today. It's a story that does offer a glimmer of hope, but also reveals the depths of human ignorance.

A friend of mine who lives in Jerusalem attended his synagogue on Friday night for usual Shabbat (sabbath) services. My friend is a progressive minded man who has long been a campaigner for civil rights and a proponent of building a peaceful world. He's known in his synagogue for being a 'lefty' or one who believes in a peace with the Palestinians that is based on fairness and justice for ALL, not just for Israeli Jews. In his synagogue, he is, unfortunately, in the minority. Many there believe that the only consideration is what is best for Israel and the Jewish citizens of Israel. No one and nothing else, in their opinion, should be considered when charting a course forward. It's mind boggling to me.

This synagogue is in an area of Jerusalem known as The French Hill, on Mt. Scopus. Hebrew University is there and the entire area has a fairly mixed population of Jews and Arabs. All of the people living there would be considered Israelis (meaning they have citizenship in the State of Israel). There are Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis (who also consider themselves to be Palestinian). (I will save an in depth discussion of all the 'labels' for another day). Suffice it to say that all the people living in the French Hill are citizens of Israel. Some of Jewish. Some are Arab (and either are Muslim or Christian).

On this particular night, the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem came to the synagogue to make a special appeal for members to attend a protest the following Sunday. The protest was to be against the fact that two pre-schools in the French Hill, which are run by Jews, are allowing Arab children to attend their preschools. The chief Rabbi of Jerusalem came to encourage Jewish residents of French Hill to call for an end to this practice. He cited many reasons for this, but the primary one was that Arabs didn't belong in Jerusalem, and having them 'mix' with Jewish children all day long was not acceptable. He said Israel is a Jewish State and should be for Jews, not Arabs. Even down to the preschool level.

I find it unbelievable that anyone could be serious in making such a point or a request. That infants and children should be segregated to 'preserve' the 'purity' of the population... is disgusting at best. I can think of a few other words to describe it, but I'll restrain myself.

Of course, Spirit has a way of 'personalizing' these experiences for me. I have a good friend, an Arab, who's 4 year old son attends one of these preschools. It's predominantly Jewish, run by Jews, and he is an Arab Muslim. My friend sent his son there because he wants him to learn Hebrew fluently, and he wants him to come to know Jews as people, and not just grow up fearing them as the oppressors of his people and the occupiers of his homeland. He wants his son to understand the very real challenges of the situation, but to not hate Jews out of hand. He wants his son to understand the complexity of the situation, and not get 'caught up' in the dominant paradigm of polarization and separation.

The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem is calling for a protest against a little boy that I consider to be a part of my very family. He's saying my sweet little 'nephew' is a danger to the state of Israel and should be unwelcome and prohibited from playing with little Jewish children in a preschool. It's personal for me. The whole concept is absurd. It's ignorant. It's delusional. It's frankly... sick and twisted. And yet, it is shared by so many in Israel... and in other situations around the world where one particular group wants to consolidate power, privilege and control and make everyone around them 'less than.'

My friend who attends this synagogue has had run ins with his own Rabbi and the chief Rabbi of Jerusalem before. This time was no different. He too knows that sweet little Arab boy who attends a Jewish preschool in French Hill. In fact, he considers him to be his grandson. He thought about just getting up and walking out of the service when the chief Rabbi started spewing his racist, hate inspired, 'call to arms.' Then my friend realized he couldn't 'let it stand.' He had to say something.

He proceeded to challenge the chief Rabbi on his statements and request for protest and asked him what could possibly be the problem with Arabs and Jews learning to live together. Each time my friend would raise a point, the Chief Rabbi, his Rabbi and some of the men from the synagogue would tell him he was wrong, that his ideas were wrong... and dangerous. They would reiterate that Israel is a JEWISH state, for JEWS and that it had to be kept that way. If you let the Arabs have access to things, they would take over, and Israel would no longer be the Jewish homeland. Each time they would say this, my friend would ask them if they want 'peace' with the Palestinians. Always they would say that they did. Then my friend would remind them that peace would never come when the Palestinians were denied the dignity and human rights they deserved. This seemed to go right over the heads of those he was arguing with. In their view, the Palestinians should accept whatever Israel offered... and be satisfied with that.

By that logic, I guess the Jews should have accepted the ghetto in Warsaw as well. It's ludicrous.

The argument raged on. My friend did not budge in his opinion or his willingness to disagree. The Rabbis and other members of the synagogue hammered away at him. They seemed to 'need' him to agree with 'them.' It wasn't going to happen. Finally, when one of the people said to my friend, 'YOU are the only one who thinks this way and YOU are wrong,' three young men sitting in front of my friend turned around and said, "Actually, he's not the only one who thinks that way. We agree with him!" The argument was then able to wind down, with the Rabbis knowing they were not going to be successful in getting everyone over to their way of thinking. Thank God.

One of the most powerful things my friend said during the argument is, "I cannot accept a spiritual man who spreads hatred and racism. I simply cannot accept that." Bravo, my friend. I'm unbelievably proud of you.

I don't know how it will all turn out. There have been similar protests against letting Arabs purchase land/homes in the French Hill (remember... they are CITIZENS of the STATE OF ISRAEL), and many such initiatives to try to discriminate against Arabs. What amazes me most is that the people who do this feel they are completely in the right. How can there be such blindness?

Separation, stereotypes, paranoia, parallel universes.... that is what is going on each and every day in Israel and Palestine. One group has all the power, and wields it over the 'other' with complete unfeeling control. The gap widens with each racist act. And yet, there are those, like my friend... and eventually the 3 young men who can stand up tall and say an emphatic "NO." When enough people do that, there will be no place in this world for the kind of ignorant, arrogant actions of the chief Rabbi and those who were supporting him.

I look forward to a day when the integration of preschools is not considered to be a threat to a nation's security. I know we will have made some progress at that point.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Hurry With Your Heels

I've been working with a Physical Therapist recently on some long standing low back issues that I struggle with. I'd never been to a PT before, and was a little bit skeptical. I'm now a total believer! :)

We've been working on many things, including strengthening my 'core' (the abdominal and low back area of the body). It turns out that for some reason, my body has gotten confused. Some critically important muscles have become chronically 'turned off' while other muscles have been working overtime - to the point of cramping and spasm at times. Fascinating.

We have some theories about why this has happened, and as I work to address those issues (both physcially and in consciousness) we are busy retraining my muscles to come off and on when they are supposed to. It's a very interesting process.

My PT gave me a really neat 'modification' to my way of walking this week. She said that she observed me leaving the clinic one day and noticed that I walked in a very distinct and somewhat unbalanced way.

She said, "It's almost like your head and heart are charging out in front to lead the way and your body is just running to catch up." She talked to me about what that was doing to the muscles in my low back, and how it was most likely involved in some of the problems I was having.

She pointed out that it isn't as simple as 'changing the way we walk, sit or move' because all of those things reflect deeper aspects of our character and personality. We have to do some interior work in order to restore a more healthy physcial stance. That, of course, makes perfect sense to me.

She went on to explain that I needed to get grounded on my feet, centered in my core, and move my whole body, mind and spirit from that solid, stable place. She calls it 'hurrying from your heels.' In other words, I can still hurry, be efficitient, get lots done, but she's advocating that my body be completely involved in the process, and not merely drug along for the ride!

So now, my process is to center myself on my heels/feet (I was tending to walk a bit on my toes), 'activate' my core, and swing my legs from my hips very deliberately. It feels AMAZING! What a difference it makes to get centered before moving!!

All the while, I'm working on the 'inner' part of this equation. My head and heart are critically important to me, and I value their judgement and their guidance. Now, however, I seek to balance their input with my physicality and let it all move together in one fluid, coordinated, balanced dance. It is making a huge difference in how I feel physcially... as well as mentally and emotionally.

Whenever I catch myself about to 'take off' with my head and heart out in front of my body, I take a deep breath, settle in to my core and 'hurry from my heels.'

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Learning to Calm Our Minds

My teacher, Dr. Chuck Bruni, used to explain to me the advantages of a 'quiet mind.' He asked me, too many times to count, whether I would want to try to solve a complex problem while sitting in a quiet library or in the midst of Grand Central Station.

Having been to Grand Central Station... I understand that to try to do any complex thinking there, especially at 'rush hour' would be virtually impossible.

My teacher's point was that our minds often resemble Grand Central Station. Full of noise and chaos, we find it difficult to think clearly and respond to our lives in a calm and thoughtful manner.

Learning to calm our minds, and restore a state similar to a 'library' is a worthwhile endeavor. Meditation is on of the most effective ways to do this. Repetitive 'training' of the mind, to learn to turn off the jumbled through processes is a powerful undertaking.

It the movie, "For Love of the Game," Kevin Costner plays a succesful major league baseball player. He had a ritual that he performed whenever he would go to the mound to pitch. He would work to get himself into a zone by saying, "Clear the mechanism..." meaning to clear his mind of all distraction and extraneous processes, so he could focus on the task at hand. Brilliant.

I use that line sometimes when I'm attempting to refocus my mind in the midst of some sort of overload or chaos. I am often able to do this, but it didn't 'just happen.' I've spent years meditating (either focusing on my breating, or using a mantra silently in my head).

Cultivating this ability is what allows us to pull it out when we really need it.

There are unlimited approaches to learning to tame the mind or calm the inner world of thought. Buddhist mindfulness meditation is one of my personal favorites, but there are many others.

I encourage you to find one that works for you and stick with it. Start small, with just a few minutes a day and build from there. Learning to calm your mind 'on demand' is an important life skill. To be able to step out of Grand Central Station and into the quiet libray can catapult your life into a new level!!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Washing Dishes

Today, I want to share one of my all time favorite reflections. This writing by Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hahn is from his marvelous book, "Peace is Every Step." If you don't own this book... you should!

This reflection has helped me totally transform my relationship to my 'to do' list and to the essential tasks of living!

Washing Dishes - Thich Nhat Hahn

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren't doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warn water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!

If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have dessert, I will be equally incapable of enjoying my dessert. With the fork in my hand, I will be thinking about what to do next, and the texture and the flavor of the dessert, together with the pleasure of eating it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.

Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane.. I must confess it takes me a bit longer to do the dishes, but I live fully in every moment, and I am happy. Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end - that is, not only do we do the dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them.

Wow. Isn't that profound? I remember the first time I read it, and washing dishes became a type of 'meditation and mindfulness' training for me. Now, truly, whenever I wash the dishes, I use it as a reminder of how present I want to be in my life. I want to be present to it all. Each feeling, each sensation, each experience, each, precious moment. I use this approach for all of my household chores and find that it really transforms my experience of them. I can actually enjoy picking up, or watering the plants, or folding laundry. I don't simply try to do them as fast as I possibly can to get to 'what's important!'

The truth is, everything we think and do is important,including some of the more mundane responsibilities in life, because the value isn't actually found in the physical task (although there is surely a benefit there as well), it's about who we are 'being' and 'becoming' while we perform the task.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Going Forward... and Not Back

I like watching and listening to great, inspiring speakers! It is one of the things in life that I enjoy the most, truth be told. There is always something to be learned and integrated when a masterful speaker shares spiritual truth!

In a talk I heard yesterday by Joel Osteen, he was talking about the importance of not settling in the our present/past and expecting life to remain the same.

Sometimes we cling so desperatley to 'the way things were' that we miss the opportunity to move with life and embrace a larger expression of what is available to us.

The known is comforting to us. It is natural to enjoy a familiar setting or circumstance. There is nothing wrong with that, unless it prevents us from the inevitable process of growth and change that is part and parcel of life.

If we are not growing, changing and evolving... we are withering, shrinking and dying. We are created to grow and evolve. It is our essential nature. WHen we inhibit that divine impulse... we experience pain and suffering.

In the Jewish Talmud, there is a verse that says, "Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers 'Grow, grow'."

When we allow ourselves to flow with this divine destiny, we attain the highest levels of peace and fulfilment possible.

When we resist change and growth, we experience pain and struggle. What would happen if a we continued to try to wear our baby clothes as adults? Not a pretty picture. We can't go back. And yet... many of us try.

In times of uncertainty or stress, we might yearn to 'go back' into familiar habits (sometimes destructive ones), relationships (sometimes unhealthy ones), careers (sometimes life draining ones). This is a natural yearning for security and 'the known' but it is a dead end street. Life calls us forward.

Joel gave a couple of quotes that I found very inspiring and useful in his talk:

"Sometimes if we don't take the hint, God will close the door for us." I particularly relate to this one. WHen we are called to change directions and we don't... sometimes we are pushed in the new direction against our will.

"Where something starts is not necessarily where it finishes." We do tend to want things to remain the same. Everything changes. Everything. THere is no avoiding that universal truth.

"What was good in the past was good FOR the past. God is a progressive God." I really like this one. THere is no need to tear apart the experiences of our past, in order to move on from them. A relationship might have been very sweet and wonderful for it's season, and then things change. Maybe they aren't so good anymore. Maybe its time to move on. That doesn't take away one bit of what was good about the relationship. It was right for its time. To release something with grace, and move into the next experience is a powerful and skillful way to approach life. Whether its a relationship, job, the shape we are in, the stages of growth for our kids... whatever it is... we can allow the old to have been 'good' for its time... and then move into an embrace of what is true today.

Whenever we feel the urge to go backward in our lives, or to cling to something we feel might be slipping away, I encourage us to pause, reflect, acknowledge our discomfort and fear... and lean in to the new. When we lean in to something we allow and invite it in to our experience. We move with it instead of struggling against it.

Take a deeep breath and lean in to whatever new experience is trying to manifest itself in your life today. It's what you were born to do!

Friday, May 02, 2008

I Am the Center of Everything

One summer, I had a young couple from Australia staying in my home for a week. They were actually from Tasmania, which is an Australian Island.

As I was giving them a tour of my house, we entered my library. There, on the wall is a large map of the world. Being the traveler that I am, I love to look at the entire world and dream of all the places I have yet to see.

As Mark walked up to the map, he said, "Interesting."

I asked him what was interesting. He said, "I've never seen a map of the world with North America dead center on the map."

We started looking at the map, and it became obvious to me that in order for North America to be in the center of the map, Europe and Russia had to be split down the middle and displayed partly on each side. Mark talked about how all the maps he'd seen (not produced by American companies) were quite different, and laid out in a way that made a little more 'geographic sense.'

I thought it was a profound moment. At least a moment for potential reflection about the propensity to place oneself at the center of everything!

What does it say to someone else when we view ourselves as the center of everything? How would our friendships work if we did that? Our marriages? Our relationships to our kids? If we place ourselves smack dab in the middle of the universe and everything revolves around us, how will we treat others?

This is as true a principle at the individual level as it is on a national scope. The US foreign policy is chock full of examples of placing ourselves as the center of the universe and expecting everyone else to line up around the edges... just like the map.

I always bristle when I hear politicians proudly proclaim that the most important goal is to 'protect American interests' in issues involving other nations. What about protecting 'human interests' or 'the good of all?' I again ask us to consider, if in every personal relationship we made it clear that our priority was 'protecting our own interests' at all costs, how successful would those relationships be?

No one wants to be in relationship with a self absorbed, selfishly motivated person. Not on a personal level and not on a national level. Good relationships are created to serve the needs and best interests of ALL parties involved, not just the richer, stronger and more influencial one.

I think the map on my wall is reflective of a deep attitude of entitlement and superiority that is ingrained in our American culture. It isn't a healthy attitude, but it so pervasive, that many of us have become unaware of it. It creeps in to how we see the world, and the other nations and cultures around the world that are different from our own.

The phrase 'taking care of my own' has always bothered me as well. For me... everyone on the planet is 'one of my own' people. I don't make a distinction between a suffering American child and a suffering Iraqi child. They both matter equally to my heart.

I personally, as a symbol of my willingness to look at the world with a healthier perspective... will replace my world map, with one that makes 'geographic sense' rather than the one I currently have which artificially constructs the world so that I (and my country) are at the center of it!

I hope that it will help me continue to remember that I operate in this world, not for my own interests alone, but for the good of all people everywhere.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Relaxing in India

Sometimes we can all use a little reminder to pause, take a breath and relax.

On a trip to India several years ago, in the midst of the enormous city of New Delhi I found a delightful surprise. If you've ever been to New Delhi, you know it is immensely busy, crowded, loud and chaotic! The traffic is a jumble of cars, buses, bicycles, carts pulled by various animals and lots of pedestrians. It can be quite overwhelming and stressful to find oneself in the midst of this sea of humanity.

As I was traveling through the city one day, my bus paused at a stop light (which many people there don't really obey, by the way). I looked up at the traffic light, and in the middle of the red light were white letters, in English, that read, RELAX. I was astonished! I chuckled to myself and wondered how on earth that had come to be.

A little while later, I was stopped at another red light, and I observed the same phenomenon. It too said RELAX.

There were actually many lights that had this little 'message' added to them.

What a great reminder, that anything, even a delay, can be an excellent opportunity to pause, take a deep breath and relax! We are required to stop at red lights and I venture to say that many of us are impatiently waiting for them to turn green so we can get on with it! In our impatience and future focus, we miss the present moment.

These little messages in India convinced me that every red light is an opportunity to recenter myself and sink deeper into a state of peace - no matter what chaos surrounds or indwells me.

Now, no matter what country I'm in... I try to use every red light as a reminder to take a deep breath and sink into a little bit of relaxation. Give it a try! Try to do it at every red light you encounter for an entire day and see how you feel!

Or pick something else... when your cell phone rings... take a deep breath and relax. How about when you flick a light switch on or off? Just take a deep breath and relax. Pick something that you do many times a day on a regular basis and use it to help train yourself to RELAX!

This simple practice can change your life!!