Friday, October 31, 2008

My Leaf Ritual to Celebrate the Season

I have a little ritual that I've been doing every fall for the past several years. It's one of those things that helps me to stop and smell the roses... to pause and appreciate life in its ever changing form.

During the autumn, I am always amazed at the spectacular show that nature puts on in changing the leaves from green to a vibrant rainbow of color. It is one of the greatest natural art shows around.

Each day, when I go out to lunch in the fall, I select a leave from somewhere near the restaurant I'm going to and take the leaf with me to put on the table as a little centerpiece for my meal. I do this whether I'm alone, or with other people.

The leaf on my table right now is a blazing red, Orange and yellow maple leaf. It's pretty large, with a long yellow stem on it. Stunning.

Sometimes I notice people outside noticing me picking out my leaf. Often there is a little smile of delight on their faces. It makes me happy knowing that I'm touching their heart in that moment. A grown woman, acting like a kid in a candy store picking out 'my' leaf.

One day a couple weeks ago, I was sitting in a restaurant, with my leaf on the edge of the table. A party came in to be seated, and a little boy, maybe 8 or 9 years old looked admiringly at my leaf as he walked by. A few minutes later, I saw him go running back by my table. I assumed he was on his way to the restroom, but about 3 minutes later, he came back by with several leaves in his hands. He took them to his table, and I watched him give each person one of his carefully selected leaves!

I was really touched by the fact that my little ritual had caught his eye, and that he had taken it upon himself to share the beauty of the autumn with his family in this way. This sort of appreciation for life and nature is, indeed, contagious! I had spread the reverence without even trying!

Next time you go out for lunch, and find yourself near a tree with it's leaves changing and falling... why not give it a try?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Outer Doorway to the Inner Cause

I'm a believer in attacking the cause of problem, rather than merely wrestling with the symptom. What I'm about to say might seem like a contradiction to that fundamental approach to life, but bear with me.

I believe that our outer circumstances reflect something about our inner state of consciousness. I can't remember who sings the song, but I remember a particular line that illustrates this point, "I know my life's a mess 'cause all my clothes need pressing." There is some truth to that idea!

When we are scattered and cluttered on the inside, our outer life will probably look a bit scattered and cluttered as well.

There was a time in my life when I simply could not keep my car clean. It was always dirty on the outside and always filled with 'my life' on the inside. Garbage on the floor, items that I never got around to taking into the house... it was simply a mess. It's not like that anymore. True, sometimes it gets a bit dirty, and it isn't always spotless on the inside, but as the saying goes... "I've come a long way... baby!"

In order to address our issues in life, we can't simply wrestle with the outer circumstances and expect to create profound and lasting change. It just doesn't work that way. What fuels our issues is a matter of consciousness and our deeply held thoughts, feelings and beliefs. We have to alter ourselves at that level in order to affect change.

I used to go to a place of business regularly that was immaculately clean, spotless and organized. Having read what I just wrote above, one might think this automatically implies that the person or persons responsible for this place are healthy on the inside (if their environment is a reflection of their inner landscape). The truth is, however, that the level of cleanliness and 'order' in this particular place expressed a pathology of its own. There was a compulsiveness that oozed through the external order. People got bent out of shape, for example, if the toilet paper was put on the roll backwards. Tension was in the air when things weren't 'just so' on the outside. This too, is unhealthy.

We must 'read' the outer environment carefully to see what it tells us about ourselves and our inner landscape.

The true work must be done on the inside, in order to affect lasting change on the outside. That being said, however, there is a way to 'work with' our external reality in order to poke at, and address, the inner causal issues.

When I worked on my car clutter issue, for example, I started by making myself clean out the car regularly. I threw away the trash, took things into the house, and took the car through a car wash as often as I possibly could. I made this 'outer' effort a statement about my willingness to take the time and effort to address the 'inner' state of consciousness that was creating the mess.

It brought stuff up in me when I cleaned out the car. I felt picked on in a way. I never felt like I had the time to do the cleaning process. I felt that the messiness showed how busy and productive a person I was. All of these types of thoughts would come to my mind when I was cleaning. It revealed a lot to me about the 'inner origins' of the 'outer mess.'

I see this sort of 'working with the external world' as a 'doorway in' to the real problem. We will think and feel all sorts of things when we start to force ourselves to address the external reality. Those are our clues as to the deeper issues at work in sustaining the outer condition that we are troubled by. We need to pay attention to those clues and then work to address them.

I think there is a lot to be said for taking action on the outer reality in order to stir up and illuminate the inner, causal factors.

If you have an area of your life that is out of control or 'messy' I encourage you to give this a try. Whether it is a physical reality like a messy desk, closet, car or house... or something like your checkbook, finances or a relationship... explore the outer doorway as a path to actually resolving the issue. It's a lot of work and sometimes can be quite uncomfortable, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Cost of Paranoia

I must be on a 'password' subject matter kick. I'm going to write about passwords again today, but this time from a different perspective.

After the burglary in my home, I went through a couple weeks where I was hyper sensitive about security issues. OK, one might even say I was a bit paranoid!

In the 24 hours after the theft of my laptop computer I changed every online password that I had. I carefully documented all of the new passwords, and they are stored in a secure location. This was not paranoid, but a necessity.

When I got my new computer and started setting it up, I decided to change the passwords on my email files. Not a bad idea, but my paranoid tendencies were in such full swing that I changed my passwords, but would not write them down, even temporarily, until I could add them to the secure list. I was afraid to write the passwords down on a scrap of paper and have it 'in existence' in my house for a couple hours! I decided that I would remember the passwords, and add them to the secure list later.

Guess what? Even a few hours later, I went back to log in to my email... and I couldn't do it! I could not remember the passwords! First off, I changed them while in a state of mind that is not my norm. I was extremely stressed and probably a little in shock from the burglary and all. The main problem, however, was my deep fear that I was placing my self (or my email in this case) in jeopardy by simply writing down the passwords! For goodness sake... I own a shredder and could have destroyed the piece of paper within a few seconds if need be. I simply didn't want to write it down. Not anywhere. As a result, I couldn't get into my own email for several hours, until someone helped me crack the password. It was actually frightening to me how easy that was, by the way.

At any rate, this entire story was a great reminder that we can get so crazed about the security of our things (and our selves) that we can lock ourselves out of our own life! What a metaphor. We can try to make ourselves 'safe' and 'secure' and paralyze our ability to live life.

I'm reminded of the stories I've heard about W.C. Fields and how he was so worried about someone swindling him out of his wealth that he hid all sorts of assets throughout his life. In the end, many of these assets (bank accounts, etc) were never found, and his heirs did not receive them. In the end, he swindled himself, because of his paranoia about the 'threats' in the larger world. He became his own worst nightmare.

That's what happened to me that day with my passwords. I was the problem... not any nebulous 'threat' in the larger world. The danger lurked inside me.

I'm a big believer in being prepared and taking appropriate precautions to protect ourselves and our things. We do, however, need to constantly monitor ourselves for the occasions when we cross that line and start to over do it and damage our quality of life. Paranoia can be costly in the physical, emotional and mental realms. Let's not go there!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Getting the Right Password

If you've used a computer for any length of time, you are familiar with the challenge of using passwords. Today's technological world is fairly complex when it comes to keeping our data safe and secure. Passwords are one of the mechanisms by which we accomplish this goal.

As a person who uses passwords dozens of times every day, I am often reminded of the power that they have.

I was sitting in a restaurant the other day, trying to use the free wireless internet that they provide. I go to this particular place frequently, and use their internet access a lot. On this particular day, I could not log in for some reason. They change their password from time to time, but I had verified with my waiter that I was indeed using the correct password. I couldn't get on to the internet. Finally I gave up.

The next time I was in the restaurant, the manager came to talk to me about the problems I'd experienced a few days prior. He told me that the password had been changed, but they weren't informed. He apologized for the inconvenience.

That small little word is the key to so much. Without the right password, you can't get where you want to go or access what you need.

A lot of things in life have their own 'password' that is required in order to accomplish what we desire. A lot of times the 'password' is particular knowledge or experience. Sometimes that password is our attitude towards something. The 'key' or password to where we want to go is something that we have to find, nurture and maintain properly in order to turn our goals and dreams into reality.

I'm a big jigsaw puzzle fan. The same principle applies here. You can't simply pick up a piece and randomly fit it in to the puzzle. Each puzzle piece has only one place that it belongs. It is the 'key' or the 'password' for that particular part of the puzzle. None other will do. Just as in the jigsaw puzzle, where sometimes you must try many pieces in one spot before you find the right one, so it is in life. We can use clues in the puzzle to help us find the right piece... the color, size and shape of the hole we are trying to fill can all help us locate and install the right piece.

Finding the missing piece, the key or the password to whatever situation we are facing in life is a process. We have to stay determined and never give up. The key exists. The password is there. We simply have to keep looking for it until we find it. Then... and only then... the door will unlock and we can move into the realm we seek to enter.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Satisfaction of Completion

This past Saturday was a big day for me. I had a major day of 'completion' in my life.

I completed the 're-setup' of my new laptop. I wrote about this last week when I was still 'in process' with it. I had to do the setup procedure twice, because my first hard drive was defective. Late in the afternoon on Saturday, I moved the final files to my new computer and the project was completed. I was filled with a sense of relief, satisfaction and pride. It was a big job. It was a job I would have rather not had to tackle. It was something I really didn't have the time to do. It was essential, and it was time critical. When I crossed the last item off my task list (there were 25 items on the list initially), I felt a wave of contentment sweep through my system. I'm not sure there is any better feeling than, "I DID IT!"

As if that weren't enough, I set out to work in my garden later that same day. The burglary of my home threw a spanner into my weeding plans. I should have been done with my last weeding pass before October arrived. Here is is near the end of the month, and I was still working to get the last weeds pulled before the leaves cover the ground and it becomes too cold to work outside. I was playing beat the clock... and beat the leaves! I didn't know that I would finish yesterday. Usually I work for 30 minutes or an hour, depending on how much time I have any given day. This particular day, as I worked, I realized that if I put in 2 hours, I could finish the task! I knew I was close, but I didn't realize it was that close!

When I pulled that last weed, I felt another wave of the satisfaction I'd felt 2 hours before when I completed my computer set up. I DID IT! I realized that all of the doubts I'd had about whether I could make it or not... were at last disproved. I was done. It was accomplished. I could take that item off my to do list until March rolls around. Thank goodness!

I'm going to get a nice little reward for finishing my yard work. The weather here is supposed to be really nice for the next several days. Now, I get to simply enjoy the beauty of these days without having to 'make hay while the sun shines' and pull weeds. How nice is that?

I wouldn't have made either of these goals if I hadn't plugged away at the tasks. As for the weeding, the days have been colder lately, and sometimes an hour was too hard on my hands, so I would only require that I work 30 minutes outside. All those little 30 minute chunks added up! I often felt a little guilty that I wasn't working 'my full hour,' but I kept myself from descending into an 'all or nothing' mentality and did what I could do.

The same applied to the computer project. I simply used available time to accomplish a task that would fit in that window, and eventually all 25 items on the list were crossed off and completed.

I've been having some struggles lately, so I guess the universe decided that I needed to have some successes. Completion is sweet. Savor it when it comes your way. As I sit here in my favorite restaurant, using my new (and fully set up) computer, looking out at the beautiful fall day... I'm reveling in my successes... and the satisfaction of completion.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

When You Hear the Buzz, Don't Hesitate!

What is it about human nature that makes us repeat our mistakes over and over and over again? Sometimes I truly marvel at my ability to shoot myself in the foot.

If you've been reading my blog recently, you know that my house was burglarized and my laptop was one of the items that was stolen. I had to purchase a replacement and reinstall and reconfigure my 'universe.' It was complicated by the fact that I didn't have the old computer sitting next to me to refer to as I tried to remember what I needed to install, and what settings I needed to change. It took me a good 2 days to restore my system to the place where I, once again, had everything I needed in it's place.

I was obviouusly eager to get this computer back up and running. For one thing, it truly is the center of my operational universe! I can't get very far in my functioning without it! Also, with each part of my life that I restore to 'pre-burglary' status, I put that experience a little further behind me. Those two motivations propelled me to accomplish the task as quickly as possible.

There was only one little problem. From the first time I turned on the machine, I had noticed that I had an intermittent noise emanating from the computer itself. It sounded a little like a bee trapped in a jar. Ok, well, maybe it was a little more 'mechanical' than that. The noise occurred at least a time or two every hour. At first I wasn't sure if it was coming from the computer itself, or the media base/docking station I had it in. It might have been coming from the cooling pad that the machine sits on. Whatever it was, instead of dealing with it immediately, I barrelled ahead in setting up the machine.

Over the next couple of weeks I determined that it was, in fact, coming from the computer, most likely the hard drive. I had suspected that immediately, but in my rush to 'get back to normal' I ignored my intuitive flash and pressed on.

I finally called Dell a few days ago, and lo and behold, they too suspected the hard drive and shipped me a new disk drive overnight. I was to replace the drive myself and return the defective one to them.

This is a relatively easy mechanical procedure, although I needed help to accomplish it!

What this means, however, is that I am now in the midst of the set up process... all... over.... again!!!

My willingness to deny the reality of the problem and plow ahead in setting up my machine basically cost me two days of effort. I'm doing all of those same procedures over again now and once again, doing with without benefit of a completely set up machine to refer to. It's easier this time, since so much is still fresh in my mind, but it is still a huge chunk of time that I really didn't have to waste.

I knew I had a problem. I was even right in what I suspected the problem to be. I knew that if I was right, the hard drive would most likely need to be replaced, and I'd have to completely set up and configure my system again. Yet, I somehow ignored all that information as I charted my couse. Amazing!

What is it that makes us, as humans, ignore obvious signs that are telling us what we need to do? We just keep going down the path we're on, because for the moment... it seems easier. Taking the easy way out rarely works. We usually end up having to take the longer, harder path anyway.

I must be on a roll with this pattern, because I had another example of it show up in my life this week.

I was traveling between two towns to get from one appointment to another. It was a beautiful fall day, with stunning autumn leaves in every direction I turned. I decided that I wanted to take a bit of a scenic drive along a local lake as I made my journey. As I made my way towards the scenic road, I decided to take a short cut and drive through a local park. You aren't supposed to drive through this park. They have very clear signs up warning against 'thru traffic.' It had been at least 5 years since the last time that I 'cut through' this park, but I decided that I would do it that day. Partly because I needed the few extra minutes it would save me and partly because it was a beautiful day and I knew that driving through the park would be therapeutic.

As I entered the park, I saw a sign I've never seen before. In addition to the "No Thru Traffic" sign, there was another sign posted that said, "Proof of paid parking required at East gate." Guess where I was heading? To the East gate, of course! Now, one would think that I would have just turned around at that moment and exited the park the way I came in. Not me. I kept driving towards the east gate, feeling annoyed at this new rule, wondering if it was true, wondering if I could talk my way 'out' of the park, etc. I got almost to the east exit gate before I finally chickened out and turned around. Now, not only did I have to take the long way around to get to my scenic route... I also had to backtrack my entire shortcut in order to do it!

I was a little late for my appointment because of this. Again, I knew 5 years ago that you aren't supposed to drive through this park. I tried it anyway, but the really important point of the story is that even after I saw the new rule and new warning sign... I KEPT DRIVING! Defiantly blazing ahead in the wrong direction, as though that would somehow make the wrong direction right.

Oh... my... goodness.

Guess the universe is trying to teach me a little lesson about paying attention and, more importantly, acting on the messages I'm receiving.

OK... I get it! Let's hope I do a little better on the next test.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vacuuming on Sunday Morning

This past Sunday I went early to a restaurant I eat at regularly. I was the first customer, as I frequently am. As I was seated at table '95' (my favorite) I could hear the sound of a vacuum cleaner. The manager of the restaurant approached me as she vacuumed. She was quite a sight, with her vacuum cleaner strapped to her back. She looked a little like one of the characters in Ghost Busters! She said, "I got a late start this morning!" We proceeded to joke about her Ghost Busters costume.

I had a flashback to my teenage years when I worked for Jan's Food Mill in Forest Grove Oregon. I worked there all through high school as a dishwasher, cook, hostess and occasional waitress.

On Sunday mornings, we had a brunch. I was the Sunday morning seating hostess. Part of my duties, among many, were to come in early and vacuum the dining room, make sure all the tables were clean and set properly for brunch, etc. Hence the connection to my manager friend and her vacuum cleaner this morning -- at least in my mind!

I really enjoyed working at that restaurant. I had a lot of responsibility there, and learned the value of hard work. It felt good to earn my own money and pay for my own school clothes. I was also able to buy (and fuel) a car. Those early days of self reliance have carried me far in life.

I worry a bit about how insulated a lot of teenagers today are from the work world. I see many kids not having part time jobs. Some are super involved in sports or other extra curricular activities. Some complain about being board in school and opt for skipping grades, rather than simply finding ways to make their time in school more challenging.

I'm a big believer in teenagers working and earning at least a part of their way. I'd like to see more of them saving for their own college expenses and taking responsibility for managing their time between school work and paid employment. It creates a firm foundation for the future.

I did participate in a few extra curricular activities when I was a teenager, although I must admit that they fizzled away as I worked more. I still believe it was a good trade off. I know, in some ways, I missed some care free aspects of my youth. I gained something I feel is more valuable in making my way in the world as a trade off, and I believe that was a good trade.

Having everything done for you, or given to you when you are young can create a sense of unrealistic expectation and entitlement that can hinder a person in their life experience. I hope all parents consider that when helping their children make decisions about how to spend their time in their teenage years. Increasing responsibility for oneself is part of the growing up process. Too many kids leave the nest too dependent on mom and dad for their 'daily bread.' Let's create healthy, confident and capable kids!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Relapse is Inevitable

In all processes of recovery, the experience of relapse is pretty much unavoidable. This is as true of recovery from addictions as it is of physical conditions.

I've been struggling with a tendon injury for the past 3 months. Who knew that something so small, as a little tendon near my elbow, could rock my world for so long?

I injured myself by 'pushing through pain' to achieve some gardening goals. I could never have imagined how my life would be disrupted by insisting that I meet that goal on time!

Slowly, but surely, my arm has been getting better, but every once in a while, I do something that is a bit too much for it, and it 'flares up.' I have to give it a little time before I regain that lost ground. It is all part of the process.

As frustrating as the process has been, particularly the length of time it is taking to complete, this one has been pretty understandable.

My back, however, is another story. I've struggled with pain in my low back/hip area for many years. I worked with a chiropractor for a year and improved a lot, and now have been working with a physical therapist for 6 months and it is markedly improved! I'd say I'm at ab out 85% of my pre-injury as far as pain free time is concerned.

Two weeks ago, however, I had a major set back. I've traced it (with the help of my personal trainer) to a rather vigorous core/ab workout I did. It was just a little too much for the unstable area of my back, and it whipped me back to the early days of pain that I suffered with for so long.

Herein lies one of the other aspects of relapse. I was terrified! I couldn't believe that I could so easily 'go back there' to that level of pain. Less than one hour of activity seemingly erased all the gain I'd made in the past year and a half. I was frustrated and really scared. What did this mean to my future? Would I ever really be 'well?' How long would it take me to get back to where I was only days before? All that swirled in my mind as I visited the physical therapist twice in a week to try to untangle the destabalized mess in my back.

After only 1 week, I'm pretty much already back to where I was before that fateful 'ab/core day.' How cool is that?

I can see now that my fears, while very real, were not based in a true grasp of the situation. Something did indeed get shifted out of place, and it did take some work to get it back, but the 'progress' I had made in the past 18 months was not lost in that one activity. It was a setback, but did not erase all I had accomplished.

This is the most important thing to remember in relapse. The climb back to where we were will not take us what it took the first time around. We knokw more. We have earned our place. The restoration process will go faster!

There are lessons to be learned in relapse. My biggest lesson is that I still need to be religious about my core stability strengthening exercises. Sometimes, because the pain is so radically reduced, I get lazy and don't do my exercises. There is a price to pay for laziness. Doing what I know I need to do will firm up the foundation upon which my recovery is situated. I may 'feel' better, but there is still work to be done.

It's kind of like taking antibiotics to kill an infection. You might start feeling better after a day or two, but the infection is not completely gone yet. One needs to finish the entire course of treatment to make sure the infection is truly gone and isn't lurking in the system somewhere.

Relapse can teach us that point. We need to keep doing the work to stay on a path of recovery and healing, even when we are looking and feeling lots better.

We certainly don't want to invite relapses into our processes, but if we can embrace relapse when it does occur, our recovery process can actaully be fortified by it!

Happy recovery!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Danger of "Letting it Slide"

I've had a big problem in this recent election of the 'whisper' campaign to paint Barack Obama as a Muslim. Of course, he is not a Muslim, but the fact that trying to paint him as such is seen by some as reducing his appeal as a potential president is what bothers me.

There is nothing wrong with being a Muslim.

There is nothing wrong with being an Arab.

There is no direct link that indicates that every Muslim or every Arab is a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer. Drawing that link is misguided.

And yet, that is the implication that has been made by those trying to destroy the Obama candidacy and support John McCain.

I do not believe that John McCain shares this perspective, but I have been disappointed by his relative silence on the issue. Some of the things going on at Palin rallies have been indeed troubling, and she has done nothing to shut them down. If you read yesterday's blog, you know how I feel about that.

McCain himself did make a noble effort when a woman at one of his rallies had the microphone and said, "I don't trust Barack Obama." McCain nodded in agreement. She continued to say, "He's an Arab..." and McCain began shaking his head no. He took the microphone and said, "No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's not," McCain said. "He's a decent family man -- citizen -- that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues."

So Kudos to McCain for correcting a false statement. Barack Obama is indeed, not an Arab. That's where my praise ends, and my issue begins. His 'answer' to this misguided woman made it sound like there's a difference between being an Arab and being a decent family man... citizen. The two are not mutually exclusive. Oh how I would have loved for him to say something like, "No ma'am, that is not a true statement. There are many fine Arab Americans... but Barack Obama is not one of them. The reasons I think you should choose me over him have nothing to do with any of that." How different would that have been.

Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for President this past weekend. While I find that interesting, by far more powerful to me were the remarks he made on Meet the Press when he discussed the 'Muslim' issue. His feelings mirror my own. Here is the excerpt of the transcript that covers this portion of the interview:

"I'm also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions."

I say "AMEN" to General Powell. I may not agree with him on Iraq, but on this, I wholeheartedly agree.

"Accusations" of Barack Obama being a Muslim, or an Arab, should be met with more than a simple correction of fact. Those "accusations" should be met with a direct challenge. That is what America is all about... or at least, it should be.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Be Careful with Your Endorsement

An email exchange this week has prompted me to revisit the topic of the power of words and what can happen when we lend our voices to communicating those words.

I believe that we have the power to harm or to heal with what we say as well as with how we treat other people. Sending our words into the world is part of how we treat others. It is as possible to commit acts of violence against others in words as it is in the physical realm of existence.

What we say (as an extension of our belief) is powerful. When we speak something, we add energy to it. We send it out into the universe with an infusion of life force.

When I talk about words, I'm referring to both the spoken and written forms. What we write is also powerful.

If you've had any exposure to my thinking before, you know that I also believe that what we 'don't say' has the power to harm (and in some cases benefit).

I want to focus today on the idea of how what we 'don't say' can be harmful. I've written before about my personal commitment to always speak out when an idea that is harmful is expressed in my presence. This is most easily understood when we think of racist or other prejudicial statements, jokes and the like. You can listen to a talk I gave here: Spiritual Messages from the Middle East Conflict, for more of an understanding of how I came to this decision and some of my experiences in living this principle. It has gotten me into some very interesting situations!

It is usually not very popular to do this. When people get embarrassed they get defensive. I *try* not to embarrass people when I state my disagreement with a destructive idea. However, when the idea is expressed publicly, then I am committed to stating my objection publicly. This is undoubtedly the more difficult circumstance. Yet, my moral conscience obliges me to do so.

When we let someone say something destructive about another group of people (such as a stereotypical, prejudicial or racist slur) and we say nothing... we subtly validate what has been said. We add credence to the thought or idea that was expressed, by our presence and 'non-objection.' This is true for emails that get circulated with our names on them. Our name being present might influence someone (if they know who we are). It is like an 'endorsement' of the idea. Even though we might totally disagree! What if that email reaches someone who knows us? What if they don't know anything about the subject independently, but decide that we do know... and they can trust our judgment? They might 'buy in' to that idea because they think we do. When our name is attached to destructive, hate and distrust encouraging materials, we should stand up and say, "I disagree" and "Please do not associate me with this type of thinking."

Some people are afraid to rock the boat, or hurt some one's feelings by doing that. I have said before that I have friends in almost every ethnic and religious group around. Jokes, negative stereotypes or prejudicial statements against almost any group instantly brings the faces of my friends into my mind. THEY would be hurt if they were present. If they are not present, it is my duty, as their friend, to stand up for them. I feel this way about all peoples... no matter who they are or from what walk of life they are.

Here's the key. I don't need to change any one's mind (although there's always the secret hope that a challenge to a destructive idea will get someone to look more closely at their position, I will admit). The goal, however, is not to win an argument, or change a position. It is merely to make it CLEAR that I do not support, endorse or agree with what has been said. That is my only job. That keeps my conscious clear.

One of my favorite quotes of all times refers to the Holocaust and what happened when good people remained silent out of fear and self preservation. It illustrates clearly, that actually - we are all tied together in this human family. When any one of us is persecuted... we are all harmed. All of us.

"First they came for Socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me."

Rev Martin Niemoeller (1892-1984)

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Value of a Stable Core

I find that I keep coming across the idea of cultivating and maintaining a 'stable core' in my life.

In the investing classes that I've taken for the past several years, my instructor always talks about a 'core and explore' approach to investing. Having a core that you establish and rarely tinker with, and a much smaller portion of the portfolio that you do more aggressive investing with. It is a solid and sensible approach. It keeps most of your money in a well diversified, risk tolerance related position, while allowing freedom to move with the rest of the porfolio.

I have also been in physical therapy for the last many months for a problem with my back. It seems I have an area of instability in my low back that can be moved out of place quite easily. This results in a lot of pain in my hip and low back. The remedy... to develop and strenghen the core of my body - my abs and torso. I've come to learn how to 'activate' and 'turn on' my core through my therapy. It is amazing that everything I do in my life can be done with more stability and ease,if initiate movement from a strong core.

I think that it it's interesting that this concept occurs in so many areas of life. There is something profound in the idea. Whatver we do we are best served if we have a solid 'core' to move from. THe possibilities of how we move, what direction we go in, the choices we make are all affected by the place that we start from. IF we start from an unstable position - the results might be seriously adversely affected. We might be harmed.

There is a lot to be said for working to create a firm, solid core or foundation... for our selves and our lives, and conduct our affairs from that place. There is no better endeavor. Nothing will have a better payoff than cultivating a strong core!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

Once again I find myself reminded of the importance of taking one step at a time in the pursuit of any endeavor. It seems that, for me, this is an issue I need to be reminded of... over... and over... and over again.

I flipped on the TV the other day and found Deepak Chopra presenting a program on Public Television. I was only able to watch for a few minutes, but my 'personal message' was delivered.

The interviewer asked Mr. Chopra a question that had been sent in by a viewer. The question was something like, "How to I work towards fulfilling my life purpose?"

Mr. Chopra's answer was simple, yet profound. He said that the important thing is to spend some time each and every day working on something related to your purpose. Even if only 30 minutes. DO SOMETHING that is somehow related to your best understanding of your life purpose... each and every day.

This really resonated with me. Often we aren't sure what our life purpose is. We generally have some clues, however. I like the idea of taking the 'best' idea that we have about our unique contribution/purpose at any given moment in time... and do SOMETHING to take us closer to it.

We don't have to have a completely clear picture. We don't need to be able to see down the road to know how it all turns out. We simply need to put one foot in front of the other... and follow the highest guidance that we have available at the time. We will make progress and things will become clearer if we follow this path.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Persistent Irritants

I'm sitting in my office at the moment, taking a break from a recording session. For quite some time, I've been working on a new product line (which I hope to announce soon.) The products are audio recordings, which I record sitting at my desk in my office. It has been a long journey with this project, but at long last, I am recording the products, one by one. They are turning out great! I'm excited.

There has been one really interesting barrier to getting these products finished. I'd like to tell you this story.

My office is located in a rather rural area. It is in an 'unincorporated' part of the county, meaning it is outside the city limits of the nearest towns. As a result, small aircraft are allowed to fly over our buildings. People can even learn to fly right over our heads! They don't allow this in more densely populated areas of the county, especially over cities. If the newbie pilot crashes, there is more of a chance of hurting people if they are over population centers.

Well, all summer long I have been working on recording this new set of products, and it never fails. Every single time I sit down to record, the pilots in training appear overhead. They can be quite loud! The sound definitely shows up on the recordings. I find myself having to pause and wait for the most offensive noises to be over (like them practicing rolls or dives over my head!) and then continue with my recording.

I'm taking a recording break at this very moment because, of course, I came to record, got all my equipment set up, recorded the first few lines and presto... the buzzing engine sound showed up, as though on cue to.... give me a little challenge.

I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so of course I don't want the buzzing sound of an airplane engine in the background of an audio product that I'm creating. I have spent a lot more time and effort on the products because of this 'challenge' than I would have spent if this invasion hadn't existed. It has been very frustrating and at times has caused me to wonder if it's even worth it to continue.

A while back, I was listening to a wonderful audio program by someone i admire and respect. The recordings were part of a large program that I had purchased for quite a lot of money. They are a wonderful product. I had loaded the recordings onto my IPOD and was listening to them while I was working out in the garden one day. I had been thinking about my 'plane problem' earlier that day, wondering if I should try to go into a sound proof recording studio to complete my project. The planes were really getting to me.

As I listened to the purchased audio program, I heard the familiar buzzing of the airplane. "You've GOT to be kidding me!" I thought to myself. "Even out here in the garden listening to something IN MY EARS I can't get any peace from this annoying noise." I shut off my IPOD for a second to see just how loud the plane was at present (and maybe to shake my fist in the air at the pilot!!). The plane noise stopped. I was perplexed. I turned my IPOD back on, and there it was again! I turned off the IPOD and the plane noise stopped. The plane was on the recording that I had purchased!!! Here was a high priced, wonderful product, and the author had the exact same challenge that I was having!

I couldn't help but think that this was a sign for me, that I needed to 'do the best I could' with the recording, and let go of my need for perfection. The exact challenge that I had been having, showed up in a product that I've listened to many times (and never noticed the plane before I might add!) My standards, at times, can be way too high, and can prevent me from actually doing things I want to do.

The other lesson i believe is in this 'plane' issue for me, is that it is so easy to find reasons not to do something. Many times I postponed recording, because I could hear the planes flying overhead. Other times I questioned whether I should even be trying to record these products. It was a convenient excuse to not record... to not give my gift to others.

Sometimes, no matter how persistent the irritations are... we just need to plow on through!

Don't let the 'noise' of life drown out what is yours to do!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Finding Humor in Mistakes

It is so important to be able to laugh at ourselves and our mistakes. Many of us take ourselves way too seriously, and get deeply embarrassed when we make mistakes or do something silly in public. Life is too short to be so hard on ourselves. WE are all human. We all do silly things. We all make mistakes from time to time. How we recover/react from those events is really all that matters.

My mom told me a story the other day that had me laughing uncontrollably. She was on a trip recently to visit her sister. The two of them attended a community meeting in my aunt's town. After the meeting, they walked outside to find it pouring down rain. They shared an umbrella on the way to my aunt's car.

As they approached the car, my aunt said, "I'm going for it!" and dashed out from underneath my mom's umbrella and ran towards the driver's side of her car. My mom held the umbrella in front of her slightly to block the blowing rain and rain to the passenger side of the car. She jumped in, shook the umbrella... and looked over to the driver, expecting to see my aunt. Instead, she saw a woman she didn't know!!

The both started laughing hysterically. My mom apologized a few times. The woman said, "I don't know who you are... but I'll take you wherever you want to go!" They continued to laugh as my mother got out of the car and looked around for my aunt. My aunt, was already laughing as well, as she stood by her car waving her arms frantically at my mother.

This little 'mistake' that my mom made has given all three of us some deep, wonderful belly laughs. I'm sure everyone who has heard the story is identifying with my mom (we've all done things like that before), and is laughing at the amusing anecdote.

We can all take a lesson from my mom. We all do things that we don't mean to do. Some of them are really funny. Life gets better when we can enjoy the entertainment factor of our little silly errors.

I'm thankful that she lived this little tale (I really needed a laugh the day she told me the story) and I'm even more grateful that she shared it with me... so I could not only be amused, but be reminded that it's really OK to make mistakes and laugh them off! Thanks mom!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

When Attitude Counts the Most

You know, it is really easy to be up and optimistic when things are going well. Feeling good and sporting a positive attitude is a natural by product of things flowing and going swimmingly. I would argue, however, that maintaining a positive and uplifted attitude is never more important than when things get tough.

We've all heard the saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

A personal favorite of mine at the moment is this quote by Sister Busche, "We are like tea bags - we don't know our own strength until we're in hot water."

Indeed. When adversity strikes, we really find out where our head is really at! Do we blow over at the slightest wind? Is our optimism and zest for life so fragile that it can be eradicated by a challenge? These are important questions to ask ourselves.

The recent economic crisis and burglary of my home really knocked me for a loop. It was really hard to not feel 'picked on' by life a little bit. It took me a couple weeks to work through it and realize that I was having a giant mirror held up to me by the universe. My attitude wasn't at all what I would have expected it to be. Now, granted... I needed some time to process the shock and psychic impact of the negative events that came my way, and that's OK. However, my reaction also helped me see where some of my vulnerabilities in my own thinking lurk about. I don't want to be so easily knocked off center by the outside world.

I think of leaves blowing around in the wind. They are powerless and have no control over their destiny. A tree with deep, healthy roots, on the hand, bends and sways in the wind, but remains firmly upright and planted in the earth. That's the vision I have for myself. No outer condition has the power to knock me down... well, at least not permanently.

I was reminded in a sermon I listened to last week, that even Jesus fell down under the weight of his cross. It's OK to fall down, as long as we keep trying and get up as soon as we are able.

The getting up process - how long it takes and how effectively we do it - is largely based on our attitude. Reminding ourselves of who we are, what life is really about, and our ability to overcome is a great place to start.

As I've dealt with losing a bunch of my possessions, and watching financial accounts evaporate in the wall street meltdown, I've let myself go to some pretty extreme scenarios in my mind (like being penniless and essentially starting over) in order to remind myself that IF the ultimate worst case scenario should occur... I will go on... and I'll be just fine. Sometimes I think we have to go to the worst case scenario and face it... in order to know that we can handle and endure whatever comes. The worst case scenario is often very unlikely... but knowing you could AND WOULD handle even the worst possible outcome, bolsters you to handle whatever does actually come alone.

We cannot control other people or the outside world. We don't have that ability or power. The only thing we can control is our own attitude and how we react to the world around us.

Whatever is facing you today - take a look at how you are thinking and feeling about it... and get to work on adjusting that inner perspective. As Joel Osteen said today in his sermon today, "Get your mind going in the right direction!" It will make all the difference in the world with regards to where you eventually end up.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Knife is Finally Gone

In the recent burglary of my home, the thieves stole 2 of my suitcases that I use in my traveling. I had just come home from two trips, so both my suitcases were out in the floor. They used my suitcases to haul away my belongings. How convenient!

In one of my suitcases was the Swiss Army knife that I've had since 1982. The knife and I go way back... and it was a bit of an irony that it too was stolen in this event.

On two other occaisions I've nearly lost this knife. One I was flying from India to Nepal. It was just after a hijacking had occurred and security was heightened at the airport. This was many years ago, prior to September 11, 2001, so my Swiss Army knife was always in my carry on. I always kept it in my backpack. It had a little pair of scissors in it, as well as a bottle opener and a corkscrew. Those three items were my main reasons for carrying it with me!

Because of the heightened security, the Indian authorities would not let me take the knife on the plane with me. They told me they'd give it to the pilot, and I could ask a flight attendant for it when I deplaned at the end of the flight. I was slightly annoyed, but there was nothing I could do.

I was 1/2 way through the airport after the flight when I realized I had forgotten to claim my knife from the flight crew. I felt my heart sink a little. I'd had the knife for many years, even back then. I was traveling with a group and didn't have the time to try to go back and track down the flight crew, so I decided to let the knife go. At the moment I decided to let go, I heard someone calling my name. One of the flight attendants had chased me through the airport to return my knife. I thought it was a miracle!

Once September 11 happened, and knives were banned from carry on bags, I had to change my routine. I would pack the knife in my checked bag, and then upon arrival to my destination, move it in to my backpack for daily use. On more than one occaision, I've accidently flown with it in my backpack. So much for the great new post 9-11 security!

On one trip to Israel/Palestine, I forgot to take the knife out of my carry on and pack it in my checked suitcase. When I got to the final security checkpoint, they discovered it in my backpack and confiscated it. I asked if I could call someone in Jerusalem and have them come to pick it up. The security folks said, "no way." I explained that it was a sentimental item and that I would hate to lose it. They finally agreed that they would mail it to my friend in Jerusalem. I addressed a label, and left it with my knife. I was fairly certain I'd never see it again. Lo and behold, it showed up within a couple weeks at my friends home in Jersualem! I was reunited with my knife on my next visit. ANother miracle!

This time, the knife, I believe, is gone for good. It's as though it was trying to 'leave me' for quite some time. I think this time it's really gone. Who knows, maybe another miracle will occur and it will show up again. I feel lucky to have kept it for so long, and to have had it return to me after two near separations. If, as it appears, this is the final separation, I accept it graciously, and am greatful for the service it provided to me over the past 26 years. Sometimes the end of a journey is inevitable. Acceptance is all you can do.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Amazing Connections

I have a story to share with you. I was having a kind of rough day not long ago. Things just weren't going my way. Ever had one of 'those days?' I was in the midst of one, and went to the mall to return a shirt I had purchased from Tommy Bahama when I was in Hawaii in August. I assumed there was Tommy Bahama store in my local mall. I was not correct. As I searched the directory, I realized that there was not a retail outlet for Tommy in the mall. I was frustrated. How as I going to return this shirt? I knew that I'd need to go online and locate the nearest store, and make yet another trip to return it. More hassle than I was in the mood for on this 'bad' day.

I had walked through Macy's on my way into the mall, and had noticed a really pretty cashmere sweater. The price of the sweater was $5 more than the price of the shirt I was returning. When I saw the sweater, I thought to myself that I'd try it on and buy it on my way back to my car, after returning the Tommy Bahama blouse.

As I walked back through Macy's I hesitated to try on the sweater. I had been unsuccessful in returning the blouse, and now would be spending 'new' money, instead of just respending the money from the blouse return.

I did try on the sweater. (It was really really really pretty!) I loved the sweater and decided to buy it, even though my return attempt for the blouse had failed.

I took the sweater to the counter at Macy's. As the clerk started to ring up my sweater, I asked her, "Is there a Tommy Bahama store in the mall?" I'm not sure what she heard, but her answer was, "We only sell men's Tommy Bahama stuff and take their returns."

I was shocked. I said, "You take Tommy Bahama returns? Even for women's clothing?"

The clerk answered, "Yes, we only sell the men's wear for them, but we take returns on men and women's wear."

I was elated! Here I was, buying my new sweater, on my way out of the mall, feeling frustrated that I hadn't been successful in returning my blouse to Tommy Bahama, and lo and behold, I'm informed that the very merchant I'm dealing with can take my return!

The clerk went on to explain that their deal with Tommy Bahama only allowed them to issue Macy's gift cards for the refund amount.

In my case this was perfect, because as I mentioned, the sweater I was purchasing cost $5 more than the blouse I was returning.

The clerk very efficiently processed the return of my Tommy Bahama blouse, issued the Macy's gift card, and then promptly applied it to my sweater. I gave her $5 plus sales tax in cash, and walked out with my beautiful new sweater.

How cool is that?

It was a great example to me that the universe can, in fact, give us exactly what we need!!! I was about to leave the mall in frustration and defeat, and the universe gave me exactly what I needed! An even easier way to return my unwanted item, and get the sweater I really wanted. How cool is that!?!?

Often, even in our darkest hour, we can be lifted up by a kind and loving universe. We need to always remember that and look for it! I was uplifted and encouraged by my return/purchase that day.

Thank you God... and thank you Universe! :)

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

What the Financial Crisis is Telling Us

Another difficult day for the stock market. 500 points lost... again. We are in a true economic crisis. We are in unprecedented waters here. It is time to take a hard look at ourselves and what lesson might be lurking in this extremely unattractive package.

Almost all of us are hurting economically right now. There is s lot of fear about the future. Many people are in positions where they stand to lose everything. It is a tense and emotionally trying time.

Our nation has been adhering to a policy I've heard described recently as 'spend and pretend.' We have continued to amass debt at an alarming rate in order to continue the business of the nation in a completely unsustainable fashion. I would argue that many of us have been playing our own lives with some of this same energy. Using debt in unhealthy ways to augment our lifestyles in an unsustainable manner.

The "American Dream" has morphed from one of meeting our basic needs, living comfortably and responsibly and in peace and freedom to a vision of living in permanent comfort and indulgence. We've forgotten how to sacrifice and work for a larger goal. We've forgotten how to work towards something... to wait and persevere. We've become a "I want it all and I want it now" culture. Our government (and our financial institutions) are reflections of that.

We need to individually and collectively look at how we conduct the affairs of our lives. We are not entitled to perpetual comfort and ease. I don't believe that life has to be a painful struggle, but I do believe we get into trouble when we expect our courses to be smooth sailing each and every day, and react with indignation when things get tough.

Many people borrowed too much money for homes they couldn't afford. Many people have run up huge credit card debt buying things they couldn't afford. Many people try to keep up with the cultural norms (many of which are unhealthy and unsustainable). When we do this, we create a vicious cycle that becomes a trap.

Our government and corporate structures are full of corruption and driven by greed. The worst of human nature is running rampant in these arenas. That creates an atmosphere where individuals are tempted (and sometimes encouraged) to do things that ultimately are not in their best interest.

We are in for a rough ride in this country economically. Some of it is collective 'feedback' for some of the poor practices that have been in place at every level (some at the individual level... some collective).

Whatever it is, I think we can all STOP and take a look at the way we conduct our own financial affairs. Are we responsible in our spending? Are we using integrity in our dealings with others? Are we treating others as we would want them to treat us? Are we expecting other people to pay for our comfort? Are we willing to bend rules to our own advantage even if someone else will suffer? Is our own prosperity more important to us than being fair?

We might not be participating anything remotely on par with what the executives of some of these financial/insurance institutions have done, but there may be more subtle ways that we are participating in this type of 'energy.'

We need to clean up our own act first... and then we need to hold those in government and in the businesses we deal with accountable.

We need to stop letting things slide... in our own lives, or in our world. It's time to stand up, pay attention, and make some changes. That is where the hope for the future resides.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Tide Turns

Today I felt a little more like myself! I had a burst of energy that I haven't seen since the burglary in my home. It's as though I've been in slow motion... almost paralyzed at times, since that day 3 weeks ago. A strange (and unpleasant) sensation.

I had a really nice 6 hour stretch today where I was as productive and efficient as I usually am. I'm telling you - that felt great!

More proof that 'this too shall pass.' Sometimes when we are in the dark, we just have to keep moving, even if slowly. If we keep putting one foot in front of the other, we will eventually get back on track. I'm living that out this very second.

Never give up. Things will turn around. They will eventually right themselves.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Unexpected Darkness

I've been off line for the past couple weeks. If you read my last entry, you know that I experienced a pretty disruptive burglary in my home (along with the theft of my car).

It has been a whirlwind of activity, emotion and self reflection and evaluation. I've learned a lot about myself during this time.

I believe I have a pretty healthy attitude towards my material possessions. I don't feel that I am overly attached to the items I own. I try to have a sense of 'stewardship' over those items, rather than a clinging, grasping possessiveness.

I'm also not terribly afraid of death. My spiritual and philosophical beliefs give me a perspective that doesn't cause me to cling tightly to physical existence.

With those aspects of my personality and belief system, I was deeply surprised (and a little disappointed) with my reaction to this experience. The depth of the emotional 'jolt' that this experience put me through caught me off guard.

It's true that I've had a tremendous flurry of activity brought on by what happened. I had to have the locks of my house changed, and on my car (since the burglars had keys to both in their possession). I've had to deal with the damage they did to my car, set up repair of the broken down door, and beef up my security system and security procedures. Not to mention trying to figure out all that the burglars took and catalog it for the insurance company. IT has been consuming and exhausting.

I was extremely emotional during the first week after the event. I would get teary eyed at the slightest provocation. I also was really afraid to be at home alone, sleep in my normal room, or come home to an empty house. None of which was true prior to the event. I also felt extremely protective of my things. In a way I've never been before.

I found it so strange that I had these reactions. It didn't completely jive with my perspective on life or material possessions. It was almost like a primitive, primal reaction to 'attack.' It's all been very tiring and I've felt somewhat depressed. It has been difficult for me to function in my normal life activities. I've felt a lack of motivation. It has even been hard for me to talk with friends at times. I've gotten a little weary of 'telling the story.'

I realize that I have extremely high expectations for myself - and I have been rather harsh with my assessment of how I've handled this. I feel like I should have been able to roll with it a bit more and not be so derailed by it. The truth is, however, that I really have had to go through a process to start recovering. I've had to sleep a lot, give myself a lot of time alone, and just do what was in front of me to do. Although it is frustrating to me, it was what it was.

I'm starting to emerge from the fog now. I'm still feeling a bit of a psychic shock, but it gets better every day. Hopefully I will soon be fully back to myself!

I have been able to 'work through' some of the issues about my 'stuff' and I'm starting to feel more safe and secure. All good. It just takes a little time.

Today I heard a preacher say that even Jesus fell down while he was carrying his cross. We aren't expected to be strong all the time and to do everything perfectly. We will all fall down from time to time. The important thing is that we get back up.

I'm in the process of getting back on my feet! Thanks for your patience.