Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Efficiency Addict

I have a confession. I am an efficiency addict! I love to find ways to make just about anything more effective and efficient. Even when I'm in line at the grocery store, observing the checkout person, I assess their movements and process and find ways that they could be quicker and more accurate. It's a gift... and a curse all at the same time.

Back in my software days, I once designed a new software system for a medium sized business and within 1 month of implementing my new system - their administrative staff was running out of work to do by noon every day!! The system I designed cut their administrative work load by 50%! That's my idea of heaven!! I love making order out of chaos, and turning inefficient processes into efficient things of beauty!

This NEED that I have, however, can be problematic. When I encounter inefficiency, I become extremely impatient. When I'm driving in traffic, for example, I'm known to talk to other drivers who are moving too slowly for me. :) Even if someone else is driving, I'm apt to give 'suggestions' as to how to be more expedient! That is one of my most popular personality traits! HA! HA!!

So in my second round of clipping down perennial grasses (I wrote about this yesterday), I decided to try a little experiment. In the interest of protecting my 'tender tendon' I decided to do some of the pruning with my left (non-dominant) hand. This would not only 'spare' my right arm, but it could teach me about accepting a 'less than efficient' performance level!

Sometimes I have trouble just relaxing and enjoying an activity for it's own sake. If I'm not being productive and efficient, I feel like I'm 'wasting' time.

My experiment with 'non-dominant hand clipping' was an excursion into performing at a diminished capacity... and letting that be OK.

I do these little things, from time to time, to challenge my entrenched ways of doing things. It's good to 'shake things up' once in a while and do something completely out of character (if you've read my blogs for awhile you read about the experience I had of going to the movie theater with my mom... wearing matching pajamas!). Sometimes you just need to DO THINGS DIFFERENTLY and break out of your ruts and routines.

I did about 20% of my day's grass clipping work with my left, non-dominant, hand. It was more than a little awkward.... and more than a little frustrating! But, I did it. I let myself experience all of that, and realize that a little inefficiency doesn't hurt. In fact, it is a challenge and keeps things interesting!

Doing things differently from time to time is a really great way to shake your 'certainties.' Give it a try!!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Avoiding the All or Nothing Trap

We had sunshine for awhile in Seattle yesterday! What a truely appreciated gift! The last several days had been downright dreary. Sunshine just lifts the heart. I found myself smiling for no apparent reason... all day long!

This burst of sunshine infused me with a deep desire to get started on some garden work I need to do. It's time to cut down all my perennial grasses. I leave them to dry in the winter because they are so pretty with their graceful silhouettes. At this time of year, it is important to cut them down to a short mound, so the new growth is free to emerge unencumbered. If one waits too long, it becomes a much more laborious task to remove the old, dead blades of grass while working around the new growth.

Last summer I injured (quite severely it turns out) a tendon in my right arm. I did this by overusing it while pruning in my garden. I had set a deadline for myself and worked many hours a day for an extended time to accomplish my goal. Usually, during 'the season' I work one hour a day in the garden. Mostly weeding and pruning. I use very few chemicals, so there is a lot of weeding to do! If I work for 1 hour a day, 4-5 days a week I can generally stay on top of the work I have to do.

This past summer, however, I set a really ambitious goal to have my garden cleaned up prior to a friend's visit. They hadn't seen my garden for 6 or 7 years and I wanted it to be in tip-top shape. So I put in 3-4 hours a day for the better part of a 2 week period. A lot of that time was spent pruning with clippers. When my tendon started to hurt in my arm, I assumed it was just normal muscle fatigue and I pushed through the pain. I wrote about this last summer! What a lesson I learned about respecting and listening to one's body!!!

It took a full 6 months before the pain in my tendon was completely gone. Even now it can give me a little twinge from time to time. I was nervous about returning to my gardening regimen. I do NOT want to aggravate that tendon.

Yesterday when I decided to tackle my grasses, I had to work with myself on my limitations. I have a LOT of these mounds of grass. I decided that the 'responsible' thing to do is to do a few at a time, spread over many days. Normally I would want to do this 'task' from start to finish in one day. That, however, could reinflame my tendon. Being aware of that, I decided to practice a little moderation.

So yesterday, I went out and cut down 5 of these clumps. It took me about 30 minutes. So-far-so-good with the tendon. It didn't even phase me! If the weather is nice tomorrow, I'll do the next batch of 5 clumps. Then take a few days off before tackling any more. I want to be extra careful, because when that tendon was hurt, I could not use my hand or arm for well over a month!

My 'all or nothing' thinking is what got me injured. It has caused me a lot of problems throughout my life. I'm constantly challenging that impulse and working on embracing moderation and balance!

I think moderation and balance always serve us better than 'all or nothing' approaches to our responsibilities. There's a great song out right now called, "Free to Be Me" by Francesa Battistelli that has a refrain in it I just love:

'Cause I got a couple of dents in my fender;
Got a couple of rips in my jeans;
Try to fit the pieces together;
But perfection is my enemy...

This is an AWESOME song for everyone... but particularly for girls and young women! From time to time I put together music collections to inspire and encourage the amazing young women in my life. This song is going in the next collection... for sure!

Listen to the song on Youtube!

I spent the better part of my life wanting and trying to be perfect... and to be all things to all people. What a pile of pooh! None of us will ever get 'there.' Perfection is not where it's at!!

I wish you (and myself) freedom from the tyranny of seeking perfection in anything... and from living in the prison of 'all or nothing' thinking!

As Francesa sings in that delightful song...

"I'm free to be ME! and you're free to be YOU!"

Friday, March 27, 2009

Waiting To Enter Gaza - by Kris Petersen

Below is an article written by my friend Kris, who I met on my last trip to Israel and Palestine. Kris stayed with my friend (and I) in Jerusalem for part of the time he was 'waiting' to be allowed in to Gaza by the Israeli government (which as you will see did NOT happen).

I met up with Kris on the last day of my trip when I went to Ramallah for a meeting. He was still waiting for approval to enter Gaza.

This article is very informative and educational about what is going on with people trying to get in to Gaza to do humanitarian work in the aftermath of Israeli's bloody invasion. A must read!

Here is a link to the article on Electronic Intifada Waiting to Enter Gaza - by Kris Petersen at Electronic Intifada.

Full text is below:

Waiting to enter Gaza
Kris Petersen writing from Ramallah, occupied West Bank, Live from Palestine
25 March 2009

The Israeli-controlled Erez crossing terminal, where most foreigners who wish to enter the Gaza Strip must pass through, August 2007. (Kris Petersen)

If there is a single act that characterizes the plight of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation, it is waiting: waiting in lines to pass through the hundreds of checkpoints scattered across the West Bank, waiting for Israel to issue an identification card, waiting for permission to travel to the next village or out of the country, waiting for loved ones languishing in Israeli prisons to be released -- waiting for peace, waiting for justice.

And for nearly two months, I found myself sharing the experience of waiting -- for Israel to allow me into Gaza.

Last year, I spent an extended period of time in Gaza working with the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), helping them to document human rights abuses in the occupied territories. But the abuses I documented then now seem tame in comparison to the recent heights of atrocity Gaza has endured.

Applying for entry into Gaza through the Israeli military authorities is a Kafkaesque and constantly evolving process. One is not allowed to even approach the Erez military checkpoint on the boundary between Gaza and Israel without prior security clearance and already within a year's time, the application for such clearance had changed dramatically.

Because I had been approved without difficulty in the past, I felt confident that my application would be successful this time as well. The process should have taken no more than five working days, but assuming the situation might be unpredictable, I applied for clearance nearly one month in advance of my arrival in the region. How naive I was.

To my dismay, the Israeli military had not yet reached a decision by the time I flew to Tel Aviv weeks later. The bored, adolescent voices of Israeli soldiers at Erez informed me that there had been no definitive response from security officials and that my application was "still in process."

Undaunted, I began calling daily -- only to receive the same laconic phrase: "still in process." On more than five occasions, I was instructed to call back later that day, sometimes at a specific hour, and when I did my call inevitably went unanswered. Most often, the response at Erez was nothing more than a friendly hang up, often in mid-conversation. When I was able to pry some information from my friendly military interlocutors, the response was mechanical and scripted:

"Because of the security situation, it is difficult to process applications at this time. Some people have been waiting for months, but try calling tomorrow."

Apparently Israel was in no mood for quixotic Westerners with a penchant for human rights. But was there any evidence of Israel intentionally prolonging my application process? Looking into the matter, I soon found that I was just one among many human rights and humanitarian workers that have been systematically blocked from entering Gaza by the Israeli military following the invasion.

In early March 2009, the Israeli human rights groups B'Tselem and Hamoked announced that they had petitioned the Israeli high court demanding their staff members be allowed to enter Gaza for the purposes of human rights monitoring. They derided what they called Israel's "constant foot-dragging" and ultimate "rejection without sufficient explanation." The two organizations, joined by the US-based group Human Rights Watch, reported late last month that their employees "faced continuous delays from the IDF [Israeli army] unit reviewing the applications."

As Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, explained, "Israel's refusal to allow human rights groups access to Gaza raises a strong suspicion that there are things it doesn't want us to see or the world to know about its military operation there."

Contacting friends in Gaza, I discovered that scores of human rights workers have been waiting months for a response from Israel. Some of them are now illegally working in Gaza because Israel's delays have lasted longer than the validity of their original clearance.

For the lucky few that have received any kind of response at all, Israel has apparently instituted a new policy of requiring organizations to be registered with the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs -- a previously unknown requirement and one that is not explained on the official application for security clearance. The process of registering with this governmental ministry is an obstacle that could potentially take months and even then without the guarantee of being permitted to enter Gaza.

Forced to explore other options, my focus turned to the potential of crossing into Gaza via Egypt, Gaza's frequently sealed backdoor. In the weeks following Israel's assault, Egypt opened the Rafah crossing point in coordination with Hamas and small groups of humanitarian workers, activists and journalists made their way into Gaza -- most notably, British MP George Galloway and American author Alice Walker. But this method is unpredictable; according to a 2005 agreement following Israel's unilateral disengagement, those who do not hold a Palestinian ID are technically forbidden to cross at Rafah. More significantly, Israel's continuation of the military siege prevented the crossing from being open for more than 57 days in 2007 and figures are similar for 2008. Although the border has been opened more frequently so far in 2009, Israel typically requires one to exit Gaza the same way one entered, so this raises the very real possibility of being trapped in the coastal territory if the crossing happens to be sealed upon entering. Unfortunately, I was not in a position for this to happen so my only option remained with the Erez checkpoint.

The reality of Israel's current policy is that by not giving a definitive "no," it avoids the negative public relations of explicitly denying human rights workers access to the Gaza Strip. By prolonging applications indefinitely, it becomes difficult for activists to accuse Israel of systematically blocking access to Gaza, but this is precisely what they are doing. Israel permits most UN employees to enter Gaza as it does some of the larger international groups like CARE or Amnesty International (not to do so would unnecessarily inflame international tempers), but who will raise a cry over the hundreds of smaller organizations effectively banned from entering a territory Israel claims to have quit?

From the rooftop of my Ramallah hotel I could just barely see Tel Aviv beyond the pastoral West Bank landscape. If I was lucky, I could even catch a glimpse of the sea, shimmering in a kaleidoscopic pink and orange as the sun ritually descends into it. This placid scene was frequently shattered by the screams of Israeli fighter jets, tearing mercilessly across the sky -- south towards Gaza -- and the feelings of powerlessness became almost too much for me to take.

My heart aches for Gaza: for the fresh sea air and the desert breeze, for the sweet smell of orange groves and the bitterness of unripe pomelo, for the hospitality offered by those who have lost everything but their lives, for my friends suffering indescribable horrors and for the indomitable spirit of a people who refuse to be extinguished in spite of it all. As I catch my flight out of the region, I am acutely conscious of the fact that Israel has scored a minor success by preventing me from entering Gaza. I could not wait there indefinitely. But I know that there are many other ways to fight Israeli oppression. And through it all, Gaza will endure.

Kris Petersen is a graduate student who worked for the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip between September 2007-January 2008. He blogs on issues related to Palestine at www.harmonicminor.com and can be contacted at kris@harmonicminor.com.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Golden Girls

I have to confess a guilty pleasure. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the old 80's show... The Golden Girls. :)

Maybe I'm getting older, and it does my heart good to see older women living full and interesting lives.

I think it is mostly about the fact that it illuminates the importance of friendship in enhancing our lives on this earth. Friends are such a gift. Even in the most rotten and difficult times in life, our friends can make us laugh and see a brighter side of things.

We all have similar ups and downs in life. No one escapes hardship, heartbreak and tough times. We all have that in common. Sharing our sorrows helps us bear the burden. Our friends can remind us that we are wonderful people who will see a better day! Friends can help us see ourselves and our problems with more optimism and hope.

Sharing our joys spreads the happiness and lifts us all!

I value my friends more than ever these days. Knowing that people love you, care about you and support you is one of life's greatest gifts.

Let your friends know how much they mean to you! An email... a note... a letter... a call. Nurture your friendships! They are what makes life worthwhile!!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Seeing Yourself Through New Eyes

I'm going through an interesting experience at the moment. I'm working on creating a resume for myself. I haven't created a resume for myself in almost 20 years! That's a long, long time. For all those years, I haven't had need of a resume, nor have I tried to look at my skills through this type of a lens.

I think most of us have the tendency to minimize our skills and positive attributes. Maybe it's early training in humbleness and not being prideful. I'm not sure where it comes from, but many of us don't see ourselves and our skills/abilities accurately.

As I work through this process of providing data to a professional resume writer, I'm both elated and deflated by my past. Looking at old performance reviews I see the best, and worst, of myself. It's an interesting little exercise!

I've helped many people write their resumes. I can see the enormous skill and potential in others. When it comes to myself, however, it is difficult to see the best qualities that I have to offer. The things I do well seem like 'second nature' to me. They don't seem all that special. Yet, when viewed through the eyes of other people, they are seen quite differently.

Sometimes we need to see ourselves through other people's eyes. We might feel that we have messed up, or are not living up to our own standards. Other people, however, might find us extraordinary!

It is beneficial at times, when we are feeling low, to let other people show us how THEY see us. Our own bias causes us to devalue ourselves. Other people can sometimes help us see ourselves more accurately!

I'll see my new resume soon, and see myself through the eyes of someone who will evaluate my capabilities with fresh, objective eyes.

I don't encourage basing our self worth on the views of others - but when we are down on ourselves, or uncharacteristically negative, we can be 'refocused' by the way that other people see us!

When you are feel down... give your friends the chance to bolster your view of yourself with reality!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Celebration of Vision

I went to the eye doctor today for a normal exam. As part of the procedure, my eyes were dilated. I normally am warned in advance about this, but today was caught off guard.

As I left the eye clinic, it was no problem to drive to my next activity which was to have lunch. I tried to look at my cell phone, and I could "sort of" see that I had a missed call, but could NOT read the name of the caller.

As I sat down for lunch and continued to try to look at my phone, and booted up my computer, I was amazed at how complicated it was to try and perform simple tasks.

Picking up my voicemail message, as I tried to use the graphical user interface on my phone was a huge challenge.

I was supposed to make an international telephone call at that time, and realized that there was no way I could look up the person in my cell phone! Nor could I get the phone number (since I use a complex dialing process to make international calls from my cell phone). I ended up looking up the person in Outlook (my email/contact management program), copying the phone number into a blank email and enlarging the text to 72pt so I could read the number. All of these tasks were really difficult given that I couldn't really see my computer screen.

I came away so incredibly grateful for my eyesight! I truly couldn't believe how difficult everything was!

Vision is such an incredible gift!! I realized after today that I take my vision, and probably many other things for granted. I think many of us do this with many of life's simplest and most precious gifts. It's no way to live!!

As my vision came back to normal throughout the afternoon, I completely appreciated the ability to see. I'm not sure I've thought about how precious this gift is - since the last time I had my eyes dilated!

I think it is important to just STOP occasionally and look at the things we tend to overlook as we focus on the challenges and difficulties of life. We can shift our perspective, our mood and our total outlook on life if we realize what we actual have!

Vision, hearing, smell, touch, the ability to walk or move, a roof over your head, food to eat, friends, family, pets, fresh air, clean water... the list is endless... stop and give thanks for what you DO have today, and focus a little less on what you're missing!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Meditation and Relaxation for the Worst of Times

This article did my heart good. I am a huge believer in mediation and stress reduction as a way to cope with the difficulties of life. It might seem trivial in the face of the horrors of war, but I still believe there is benefit in good self care - even in the worst of times. If people in this horrendous situation are taking the time to learn how to take better care of themselves, we certainly can too!

No matter what is going on around us, having a clear, calm mind and settled emotions helps us function better and deal with what is happening.

Take a look at this article. The link is below, as is the full text.

Link to: Stressed Gazans Turn to Meditation After War

Stressed Gazans Turn to Meditation After War

By KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Writer
Thu Mar 12, 2009
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Deeply conservative Gaza isn't exactly fertile ground for New Age practices. But women in head scarves and men in suits flapped their arms with gusto while breathing in rhythm in what looked like a yogic chicken dance.

The recent scene in a hotel ballroom broke several cultural taboos, such as not letting loose in public, particularly in mixed company. But the dozens of counselors and social workers, stressed and overworked since the recent Gaza war, eagerly cast convention aside to learn about relaxation techniques.

"We are teaching very simple tools of self-care," said Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist who runs The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., and offers a parallel trauma program in Israel.

Since 2005, he's taught 90 Gaza health professionals who have reached thousands of patients with meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback and support groups in which participants express their feelings in words, drawings and dance.

"My house became like an asylum after the war," said Naima Rawagh, who works with abused women and said she was flooded with requests for help after the Israeli offensive. She and other counselors are finding ways to connect with the conservative Muslim society.

Ibrahim Younis said he uses passages from the Quran, the Muslim holy book, to illustrate key points such as the need for exercise and proper eating.

Rawagh said she switches to tapes of chirping birds if patients complain that moving to music is "haram," or forbidden by Islam.

But mostly, Gazans appear open to what may seem like strange ideas. Many are eager to gain a sense of control after 21 months of border closures after the militant Hamas group seized Gaza and after Israel's three-week offensive that ended in January.

"We are here now because the demand has increased exponentially ever since the blockade on Gaza," said Gordon, who has run similar workshops in postwar Kosovo and for homeless teens in the United States.

Some 140 counselors and health workers participated in this week's sessions in Gaza City. In a second round, several months from now, they'll learn yoga and other techniques.

On Monday, they heard a lecture about deep breathing, with women sitting on the left side of the ballroom and men on the right. They were asked to close their eyes and take deep breaths for guided meditation. Some just folded their arms.

Then the Gaza chief of the program, Jamil Abdel Atti, asked them to stand and flap their arms while breathing vigorously, with eyes closed. Some giggled, made halfhearted attempts or even sneaked out, but most made a serious effort.

Fatima Suboh, a 48-year-old university teacher, beamed afterward. "I feel high energy, I feel that my blood is working," she said, acknowledging she felt a little self-conscious at first.

Social worker Ghada Assad, 33, said she'll take home what she is learning and use it with her children and clients "so we can laugh and we can have some relaxation for our muscles and some energy for our bodies."

Throughout the workshop, participants shared war stories.

Participants in one group, led by a woman in her 20s with a beaming smile, sat in a circle on the carpet. They started by "checking in," or telling the group how they felt — breaking another cultural taboo against being too forthcoming with strangers.

Younis and Rawagh say it's an effective way of easing trauma in a short time.

After the war, Younis paid visits to victims' homes and started arranging support groups by category, such as new widows.

"The demand is huge," said Gordon, who during breaks gave acupuncture treatments to those who ask.

In a remarkable scene for Gaza, a woman in a black robe and face veil walked up to him in the lobby and asked if he could work on her.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Who Are We Following?

I had an interesting experience at the post office the other day. The post office I frequent has 3 'do it yourself' postage stations where you can mail large envelopes and packages without assistance. It's a great offering, since the line in the post office is frequently long and slow moving!

I was working away at one of the machines mailing several packages. I noticed a woman standing behind me, as though she were waiting for my machine.

I glanced to the side and noticed that both the other machines were wide open.

I wondered why this woman was waiting for the ONE machine that was occupied. I assumed maybe she was waiting for something else and just happened to be standing behind me.

I finished my transactions and left the machine. As I walked away I glanced over my shoulder. Sure enough, the woman walked up to the machine I had just vacated and started her transaction!

What was up with that? Two other machines were available, including one right next to mine. Both were working. She came in after I did and just lined up behind me to use the machine. I find that fascinating.

I was doing what she needed to do... and she just followed me. She didn't take the time to look around and notice that there were other machines immediately available to her.

It made me wonder how often we just follow other people, even when it isn't in our best interest to do so. We just 'get in line' because that's what everyone else does.

Line psychology is very interesting. People will get into a line without even knowing what it's for... 'just in case' they need to be there. Fascinating.

Another recent post office experience seemed related to this phenomenon to me. In this same post office, there are two large barrel-like mechanisms where you can deposit packages once you have 'self posted' them. They have a large handle on them. You pull the handle, roll the barrel down, place your package inside and then lift the handle. The barrel then dumps your package into a secure receptacle behind the wall.

One day I was using the self postage machine for a couple envelopes I needed to mail, and I noticed several people try to place packages in the barrel next to me. It wouldn't open. Each person tried to open the barrel and several people left the post office with their packages in hand! Some people tried both barrels, finding them both locked, left their packages at the end of the counter where they seemed to hope a worker would just take it at some future time.

It was very interesting to watch. No one simply walked up to the counter and said, "Hey... it looks like someone forgot to unlock the barrels this morning. Could you please unlock them?"

I watched at least 5 people 'give up' on the barrels. This was at about 1pm in the afternoon, so the post office had been open for many, many hours.

How many people had tried to use the barrels, found them locked, and yet did NOTHING to fix the actual problem? They just accepted the locked barrels, even though it was obviously just a mistake, and either left the post office without mailing their package, or they found another way to leave their package.

I think that sometimes we just 'accept' things as fact or real because everyone else seems to be doing it. We just live with a situation that could be easily remedied. If other people see sonmething in a certain way, we often just do what they are doing.

In both these situations, people were not seeing what was possible, they were accepting something they didn't need to accept!

The woman behind me had immediate access to a machine to mail her packages, yet she stood in line behind me. The people who tried the barrels and found them locked just accepted that they were 'off limits' and didn't move to get them unlocked.

How often do we accept something that is easily challenged or changed? How often do we follow others down a path because it is the mindless path?

I think we can all benefit from opening our eyes and not simply accepting things because other people are accepting them. Many things are not as they appear and if we just change our perspective we can remedy them.

How many problems in our lives and in our world could we resolve if we just look around and see solutions where others see locked barrels? Interesting thought!

Who knew the post office could be so educational??

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Hidden Benefit of the Economic Downturn

I've noticed a new trend in some of the restaurants I frequent. They seem to be cutting corners right and left. It's time, it seems, to reduce costs and save money. One of the ways this is showing up in restaurants actually shows a hidden benefit of the current crisis. They are being more frugal with their resources.

For example, one of my restaurants (a fast food chain) has taken the napkin dispensers off the tables. Now you must get your napkins from the condiment bar. It discourages waste.

At another restaurant, they have started to ask whether you need utensils for your takeout. This is great! Before they would always just give you the plastic utensils, whether you needed them or not. It is incredibly wasteful.

All over, what I'm noticing these days, is that businesses and normal folks are being more conscious about their resources. People are wasting less. Businesses are making due with less. Everyone seems to have a renewed sense of responsibility about what they use and spend.

I believe this is a very good thing!

Prosperity can sometimes encourage waste and carelessness. One of the hidden benefits of what we are all going through economically right now is that we start to appreciate things more and pay more attention to how we use and spend what we have. It makes us more conscious and more aware of what we have! This helps us to live more in the present moment and not take things for granted. All of this actually enriches our life experiences.

Appreciation and awareness are great qualities to develop and cultivate. I believe that if we look for it, even in the midst of the difficult time that so many of us are going through, we can be changed for the better!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taking Time to Recover

Having just come back from my trip to the Middle East, I'm in the process of getting over my jet lag. It used to be that it only took me a couple days and I was through the process completely. Now-a-days it seems to take a bit longer.

I have a strategy for 'getting back on my schedules.' I'm faithfully employing this strategy as we speak.

The ingredient that I need to add more of these days is... patience!

As with so many things in life, it takes what it takes to get over jet lag. There is no short cut for the process. All I can do is do what I know to do... and let it happen.

I always wish it would go faster. I always want to be through the process before it's complete. All that wishing and wanting doesn't change the fact that it takes me a while to get over my jet lag!

I've started to consider it another life experience meant to teach me to be patient with myself. Some things just can't be rushed.

When we are sick we need time to heal.

When we experience a disappointment or loss, we need time to grieve and move through it.

When we have major life changes, we need time to integrate the new and release the old.

If we are experiencing conflict or difficulties in relationships, it will require extra time and attention to work through the issues.

Life is filled with experiences that require us to invest extra time, energy and effort AND 'allow' them to unfold.

Some of us, including me, struggle with that inevitability.

You can't push the tide. We will actually experience less stress and more joy in life if we learn to let natural processes unfold as they are meant to. We need to be willing to cut ourselves some slack as we put more time and energy into these issues. Sometimes we have to let other things slide a bit, temporarily, in order to accomplish what needs to be done.

So, as I relax into my jet lag recovery, I'm keeping that in mind.

It takes what it takes to move through it. My job is to cut myself some slack in the next few days and support myself in getting back into my Seattle schedule. Adequate sleep, exercise and a good diet are all priorities for the next few days. If I neglect myself right now, I could very well end up getting sick. It's worth 'taking it a little easy' right now in order to avoid that!

Got anything going on in your life that requires extra energy or effort? Make sure that you acknowledge what is needed, and do your best to give yourself the space and support to move through the experience with love and compassion for yourself.

Time for a cup of herb tea as I prepare for sleeping. Goodnight!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fighting Over What?

Last week I spent a few days on the Sea of Galilee in Tiberias. I was taking a few days of rest in the midst of my trip to the Middle East. I usually do this once per trip. The area is lovely, especially at this time of year. It’s very green and lush and the wild flowers are blooming. It’s a feast for the senses. It is also a very sacred area to me. I just love being there.

My friends and I took bread out from breakfast to feed the fish in the Sea of Galilee. It’s a little ritual that we have.

On this particular trip, the Sea is very low due to lack of rain. It’s actually a big problem in the region right now.

As a result of the sea being so low, the fish weren’t right at the edge of the sea wall like they normally are. When we took our bread out to feed the fish we didn’t see a single one! The birds, however, arrived in droves. Seagulls, pigeons and sparrows all surrounded us and tussled for the goodies that we had.

I observed something that caught my attention. On many occasions, two pigeons would arrive at a lump of bread at the same time and each of them would grab it with their beak. What ensued was a bit of a tug of war. Most of the times one bird or the other would wrestle the bread away from the other bird and take off with it. Winner takes all.

A couple of times, however, something very interesting occurred. The birds would tug back and forth on the bread, and would get increasingly hostile with each other. Suddenly they would both drop the bread and one would chase the other bird and they would continue the battle, leaving the bread by the wayside. Another bird, not involved in the conflict would waddle along and take the spoils of the battle! They got so into the ‘fight’ they forgot (and abandoned) what they were actually fighting for!

What a glorious example of the insanity of fighting and war! How often in human encounters do people get so caught up in defending their position, being right, gaining power and a sense of superiority over another person or group that they literally take their eye of the prize, or forget there was a prize altogether? I think it happens far more than we even realize.

Next time you feel like fighting or arguing about something, remember these birds that left their bread in order to continue picking at each other. Ask yourself if you are being a silly bird? Is it worth it? What do you really want from the situation? Is it likely to be achieved by getting so caught up in the conflict that you can’t even remember what you were fighting for? Is domination and control really a victory?

Don’t be a silly bird. Choose your battles carefully, and stay focused on what you are trying to achieve. Better yet, find a way to resolve your problems without fighting and creating conflict! What a concept!

Monday, March 16, 2009

When the Wall Applies to You

On my last day of my most recent trip to the Middle East, I took a journey into the occupied West Bank in Israel. I had a business meeting that I needed to attend in the Palestinian town of Ramallah, which is only a few miles from Jerusalem. Because I knew that I would need to cross the Kalandia checkpoint (going both ways), I decided not to drive my own car. For one thing, it is against rental car company policies to take your car into the West Bank. If anything happens within the occupied territories you are 100% responsible for the damage. They have their ‘reasons’ for having those policies. To me, it is just one more way to marginalize the Palestinian people.

I hadn’t been to Ramallah in 7 or 8 years and didn’t want to try to find my way to my destination. For those reasons, I decided to take the “Sherut” or mini-bus to Ramallah. I’m not a big public transportation user. I don’t say that proudly. I grew up in a place with poor public transportation. It was also a very rural area where everything is spread out. Public transportation wouldn’t have made a lot of sense there.

Taking public transportation anywhere would be a new experience for me, but doing it in a place where I don’t speak the language and where I would encounter a checkpoint made it a little intimidating for me. I was proud of myself for leaning into it (with help from a couple friends who dropped me off, picked me up and told me roughly what I could expect) and making the trip.

As you drive from Jerusalem to Ramallah, you get an up close and personal look (from a few feet away) of the ‘security’ wall that has been gradually choking off the Palestinian people from free movement, their farm land, hospital access and even friends and family. The wall is made of huge concrete blocks that tower up to 25 feet high, with razor wire coils along the top in some places. It is intimidating and ugly.

As we sped along the wall in the Sherut, I was on the side with the ‘wall.’ I actually got a little motion sickness because I couldn’t see anything besides the wall whizzing past. In the old days I would have been able to see rolling hills, buildings and people as I looked out the window. Instead, on this day, I saw nothing except a giant barrier that was sending a clear message to me and everyone on that bus. “You are not welcome here. This is not yours. You are not worthy of freedom or humane treatment. You are not one of ‘us.’ We will wall you out because we can.”

It was a horrible feeling. Even though I’m not even in the targeted group (well, not completely – although standing up for Palestinian rights does put me on the ‘wrong’ side of the wall as far as Israeli governmental policy is concerned) I still felt that stinging, degrading message. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to have that message literally ‘in one’s face’ each and every day… day in… day out… month after month and year after year.

The wall is one thing. The checkpoint was another experience I’ll never forget. I’d never been through this particular checkpoint. Going in to Ramallah wasn’t too bad. Our bus didn’t get stopped, although the traffic was choked up getting through. Coming back towards Jerusalem however, where Israeli controls the checkpoint, was an entirely different story.

A lot of times if you are on a Sherut, you cannot drive through the checkpoint. You must get off the bus on the Palestinian side, walk through the checkpoint and be ‘processed’ and then get on a different bus on the Israeli side of the checkpoint. That’s what happened to me on my trip. I was a little nervous, partly because it was a totally new experience for me and I had no idea what I was supposed to do, and partly because it truly did give you the impression that you were a criminal… or somehow not worthy of respect or dignity to be treated this way. All the people around me were used to this. That made me sadder than anything else.

The bus driver directed us to get off the bus in the middle of the grouping of cars lined up to cross the checkpoint. I was actually already standing right next to the door because the bus was totally packed – all seats taken and many of us standing up. I got off the bus and stepped to the side so I could follow some of the people from the bus (so I would know where to go and what to do.)

We maneuvered through the traffic jam of cars, on foot and made our way to a building. First we had to line up single file and go through a narrow channel with metal bars on each side of us. I’m not a large person, but the bars were close to each side of my body. There was barely enough room for one person to pass through. There were several of these channels next to each other, but only one was ‘open.’ You stand in the channel, and suddenly a turnstile unlocks and becomes mobile. This is not simply one little turning bar like we’re used to seeing in the states, but a cage that has lines of bars going from the ground to the top of the cage (far above your head). A certain number of people get through and it locks again. Often times a person is caught in the compartment (think of a revolving door, but much smaller with horizontal bars in front of you and behind you instead of clear glass windows. I had to pass through two of these and got ‘caught’ in them both times. What a sensation, to be locked in a metal turnstile! I can tell you it is not a good feeling.

As you made your way out of the first locking turnstile you go stand in one of any number of lines to wait to go through another locking turnstile. People run from one to the other when they perceive that one is moving faster, or a new ‘locking turnstile’ suddenly unlocks. I got in line behind some of the women from my bus and watched to see what the procedure was for this turnstile. 2 people were basically let through in sequence, and then it would lock. After getting through this turnstile you put your bags on a conveyor belt/x-ray machine. Israeli guards are in a locked room watching you. You pass through a metal detector. Sometimes I guess they look at your ID, although they didn’t look at mine (or anyone else I was near) on this particular day. My jacket set off the metal detector, and I had to go back and take it off and pass it through the machine. An elderly Palestinian man in front of me held up the line for a really long time because he kept setting off the alarm. No one else was allowed through the turnstile until he cleared the x-ray machine.

I got through that process and was confronted with a couple of additional turnstiles (these weren’t locked at the moment. I wasn’t sure which way to go (all the signs were in Hebrew) so I asked some women and followed them. We went through another turnstile and were ‘free’ on the Jerusalem side. I’ve never felt so ‘controlled’ in all my life. It was a horrible feeling. The process felt as though it was created for livestock: The cages, the bars, the locking mechanisms that would suddenly ‘unlock’ and then ‘relock.’

The irony is, there are plenty of ways to get into Jerusalem without passing through this checkpoint. There are ways to drive around it (though greatly inconvenient) and there are ways to walk around it. Would someone with bad intentions really come through this checkpoint? Think about it!?!?

I made my way to the right numbered bus and got on. This time I got a seat. We sped away and were in Jerusalem within a few minutes.

I was shocked at my physiological response to the experience. I was literally shaking! Some of it, I know, was just the newness of the experience in general, not being able to respond to instructions (in Arabic or Hebrew as the case may be), etc. Something more sinister, however, was at work within me.

Feeling that I was being treated as some sort of sub-human was disturbing at a very deep level. It feels bad to be looked at with suspicion and lack of respect. The entire system at the checkpoint sends an unmistakable message. The people passing through that checkpoint aren’t really people at all. They are a risk, a danger, a nuisance, dispensable. They are treated as though they have no value as human beings. It is repulsive and heart breaking at the same time.

I was feeling that within me after only one trip through. Can you imagine what toll that would take on a psyche over the course of days, weeks, months, years or a lifetime?

The way that the local Palestinians handled it was with obvious distain, but a lot of humor. They have obviously found ways to deal with it internally so as to not lose their minds. My deepest hope is that they are not internalizing the message sent by the system to which they must submit themselves to make a simple trip of a few miles for work, school, health care, shopping or visiting friends and relatives. I don’t know how they do it!

When the wall and the ‘security’ procedures apply to you… it is a truly horrible feeling. To know YOU are the object of these mechanisms sends a signal that is impossible to miss and difficult to not internalize.

I look forward to the day when human beings don’t treat other human beings this way. I yearn for the day when power is not abused to try to attain ‘security’ for exclusive groups at the expense of dignity, respect and quality of life for other groups. If my security requires the abuse of other people to attain it, I don’t want it.

Lots of graffiti appears on ‘the wall.’ A lot of it was in Arabic, so I couldn’t understand it. One message resonated with my heart:


I certainly hope we don’t have to wait too long. I hope the cages go with it when it falls!

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Transformative Power of Kindness

I just returned to Jerusalem from a trip to Tiberias, in the north of Israel. I went with my friend Steve. We had a great time hanging out on the Sea of Galilee, soaking up some relaxation. I know it did me a world of good!

There was a cute mutt of a dog hanging around the hotel we stayed in. We saw him many times a day. He seemed to like us and follow us around a lot. As the holiday continued, Steve learned that this dog had been around the hotel for quite a while. He seemed to be abandoned. The hotel workers were feeding him at night, but they worried about him getting hit by a tour bus or trampled by groups of tourists as they arrived or departed the hotel.

Steve started talking about taking this dog back to Jerusalem with him. I thought he was joking. Turns out he wasn't. So.... we now have Tibby the dog as a new member of the family! Tibby is a 'take' on Tiberias, where the pooch was lost... and found.

Check out this adorable mug!!!!

Tibby - the new member of our Jerusalem family...

How could you resist that face??

Steve and I discussed at length the responsibilities of having a dog, and explored whether he was really willing to take this on. He knew he was signing up for vet visits, daily walking, food purchases and play. It's a big responsibility to take care of another creature.

Tibby seemed 'resigned' and subdued on his ride from Tiberias to Jerusalem. He was a friendly dog, but not overly enthusiastic about much of anything. I tried to give him some water in a paper cup and he refused it. I think he'd been drinking the chlorinated water from the pool!!! Poor thing. He just didn't look like he felt very good.

As we got Tibby home we put down a bowl of water for him. He still wouldn't drink it. He immediately jumped into Steve's recliner and curled up. He still seemed somewhat 'vacant' and 'sullen.'

I headed out to buy food, toys, treats and anything else a sweet little dog might want! Upon my return we gave him some treats and a toy to play with. He devoured the treats and played a little bit with his toy. He seemed to tire easily.

What a difference a day makes! As Tibby got a bit more comfortable, the tail started to wag more. He started drinking water and ate some food. His energy level seemed to increase. He started to jump up and down when any of his new family members paid attention to him.

By this morning, he seemed like a different dog. Full belly, lots of fresh water, a warm, safe place to sleep and most importantly, a lot, lot, lot of love has transformed this sullen, dejected creature into a little bundle of bubbling love!

I can't wait to hear the reports of his progress as he more fully comes into his full self as he settles in to his home and realizes this is forever!

It was such a clear representation to me of what happens when a being is treated with love, respect and care. All it took to 'unleash' this creature's true nature was a tiny bit of nurturing. He'd been abandoned and probably mistreated by some who encountered the 'stray' at the hotel. He seemed a little distrustful when we first met Tibby. Now, he seems to be blossoming into full blown goofy, lovable 'dogness.' As it should be.

Kindness heals. Caring transforms. Love can turn around even the most sad and dejected of souls. It's so simple!! What if we each tried to take one action every day to just let someone know we cared about them. Watching another being 'light up' when they've been touched by an act of kindness or compassion is a priceless treasure. We all have the power within us to give that gift and receive the reward of witnessing an ignition of the inner spirit of another being.

Give it a try! Be it a person... or an animal... share some kindness and caring today.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Road Making

A good friend of mine here in Israel shared an excerpt of a poem with me that I really resonate with... being the traveler that I am. I thought I would share it with you as well. My thoughts follow the poem.

Here is an excerpt from "There Is No Road" by Antonio Machado (1875 - 1939):

"Traveler, your footprints
are the road - that is all;

Traveler, there is no road;
the road is made by walking.

By walking, the road is made,
and looking back
one sees the path
never again to be traveled.

Traveler, there is no road;
only a ship's wake in the sea."

What a great reminder that life is about the journey, not a destination. Each day that we are granted the gift of life, we are free to explore whatever lies before us.

Often, the way forward is not clear. Which way do we go? What choices should we make? Which option is the best for us? When the path is not obvious, we can become confused or fearful. Sometimes we can become completely paralyzed.

It is not very often in life that a blazed trail extends before us, clearly marked so that we are assured success. More often than not, we must make our own path by walking into the unknown, just as Machado points out in this poem.

People often try to cling to absolutes - it is easier to live in a world of black and white - even if you are failing to 'do right' a lot of the time. At least you know where you stand. At least it's clear. I find, however, that the real world is full of black and white and every shade of gray, not to mention the rest of the rainbow! Creating a toolkit that enables us to deal with ambiguity and complexity allows us the fullest experience of what life is all about.

Learning the lessons that life teaches us, each and every day, allows us to forge our own path through the untamed jungle of life. Hopefully we become wiser, kinder and more skilled as we go.

We can never go backward and 'redo' the path we have traveled, yet we can learn from that path and forge a different and better future. We can allow our past to be behind us, completely, and greet each new step as the new beginning that it truly is.

Be kind and gentle to yourself as you blaze your own unique trail through this life.

No one does it perfectly. We all make mistakes. We all stumble. We all disappoint ourselves and other people. Yet, each new step provides the opportunity to change directions, correct our course and begin again! What a gift!

My wish for you is to experience happy and profound travels. Remember... the road is made... by walking!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Alice Walker in Gaza

I wanted to highlight this article about Alice Walker's journey through Gaza with CODEPINK. Ms. Walker is best known as the author of "The Color Purple." I'm encouraged that people of notoriety are taking notice of what is happening in Gaza and bringing the attention of average Americans to the subject. I have put a link in to the article here, and I have included the text below. The bolded sentences are my emphasis.

It is really important in looking at our world, that we open our eyes to truth and reality and not blindly follow what we have been told and have been conditioned to believe. There is a world out there that most Americans know nothing about, yet by the actions of our government, we are inextricably linked. Attitudes towards Americans, by others around the world, are formed by these policies. It would behoove us all to have a greater depth of understanding about our role in the world community.

Link to Article on Alice Walker's Journey Through Gaza (text below).

KARIN LAUB, Associated Press Writer Karin Laub, Associated Press Writer
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker says a catastrophe has befallen the Gaza Strip and that she hopes she and others can help President Barack Obama "see what we see."

Walker, the U.S. author best known for her novel "The Color Purple," toured Gaza this week, including an area destroyed in Israel's recent war on the territory's Islamic militant Hamas rulers.

Several neighborhoods along Gaza's border with Israel were leveled by Israeli forces during the three-week offensive, which ended Jan. 18. Israel says Hamas is to blame for the destruction because its fighters used civilians as shields and operated from crowded areas. About 15,000 houses were destroyed or damaged, displacing thousands of Gazans.

Walker, 65, said in an interview Tuesday that she saw widespread devastation.

"Lots and lots and lots of houses of just ordinary people have been completely and utterly destroyed, and people are living in the rubble," she said, speaking in the garden cafe of her Gaza City hotel. "Some of them are struggling in tents, and some are just sitting in what remains of their homes."

Walker said her decision to visit Gaza, along with members of the U.S. anti-war group Code Pink, was spurred by the recent death of an older sister. She said she felt a connection to Gazans who lost loved ones in the war.

"I wanted very much to be with them and to bear witness to what is happening to them, this horrible, catastrophic, terrible thing," she said.

Israel says it launched the Gaza offensive to halt rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli border towns. Some 1,300 Gazans were killed in the war, according to Gaza human rights groups and medics. Thirteen Israelis also were killed.

Walker said she believes Americans have mostly been exposed to the Israeli narrative since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948 and know little about the plight of the Palestinians. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled their homes at the time.

"We were indoctrinated to the song in that film Exodus, you know, `This land belongs to us, this land is our land,' meaning the Israelis, the Jews, and for so long, we were told that nobody lived here, that it was a land without people, for a people without land," she said.

Walker said she hopes she and others can make Obama more aware of the plight of Gaza.

"Believing that he (Obama) is a decent person, and I do believe this, our job then is to help him see what we see, and then he can decide how he will behave and it's on his soul, it's not on my soul."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Israel and the West Bank last week. Clinton said she would work vigorously for a peace agreement that includes the formation of an independent Palestinian state, but gave no indications she would try a new approach. Many Palestinians and other Arabs view U.S. policy as lopsided in Israel's favor.

Walker did not respond directly when asked whether Hamas — classified as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel — should be held responsible for Gaza's hardships.

"I think all of us have an opportunity here to just say what we believe, which is we think killing is wrong, we think stealing land is wrong, we think abusing people is wrong," she said.

Gaza's borders have largely been sealed by Israel and Egypt since June 2007, when Hamas seized control of the territory by force, ousting troops loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Walker, who is black, grew up in segregated Georgia, an experience reflected in some of her work. She won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for her 1982 novel "The Color Purple," which was later turned into a movie and a musical.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


CODEPINK is a marvelous women's organization, dedicated to ending war. They entered Gaza on March 7, 2009, in commemoration of International Women's Day to bring much needed aid and encouragement to the suffering people of Gaza.

God bless those who have the courage and willingness to stand with suffering and oppressed people. Their actions raise public awareness about the TRUTH of what is happening in these dark corners of the world and bring help and support to those who need it most.

They have my utmost respect and admiration. Go CODEPINK!

CODEPINK aid baskets for Gaza

Read more about their efforts, and their organization here:

CODEPINK's Main Website

CODEPINK's Women Say No To War Website

Link to American Chronicle's Article - text follow's below:
International Women´s Delegation Granted Entry to Gaza
International Desk - March 08, 2009

Novelist Alice Walker, parents of Rachel Corrie and 58 others to spend International Women´s Day in war-torn territory.

GAZA CITY, GAZA STRIP – A 60-member aid delegation was allowed entry into war-torn Gaza today through the Egyptian border crossing Saturday.

The delegation, which includes Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker, organized by the peace group CODEPINK, was allowed through the Rafah, Egypt crossing in time for International Women's Day, March 8. The crossing has been closed by the Egyptian government almost continuously since July 2007. However, Egyptian First Lady Suzanne Mubarak, chairman of the Egyptian Red Crescent (similar to the Red Cross) and president of the National Women´s Committee, communicated her "blessing" of the mission through the Red Crescent team that escorted the delegation through the crossing.

"Given the fact that so many organizations and individuals wanting to help the people of Gaza have been turned away from both the Egyptian and Israeli border crossings, it is amazing that we were ushered through with such ease," said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK. "We feel extremely fortunate to be able to be with our Gazan sisters on International Women´s Day. But we also want to send a message to the governments of both Egypt and Israel that the borders must be opened to all individuals and organizations. Long-term peace and prosperity are not possible without freedom of movement."

The Red Crescent estimates that 1,000 truckloads of supplies and other goods are needed every day to meet the needs of the 1.5 million residents of the Gaza Strip. Yet, the UN reports that the daily average has been only 125 truckloads since the borders closed about 18 months ago.

The CODEPINK delegation was invited to the region by the Gender Initiative of the United Nations´ Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a program dedicated to promoting the rights of girls and women in the Gaza Strip. It will meet with social-service organizations and deliver more than 1,000 gift baskets to Gazan women. Also among the participants are Craig and Cindy Corrie, parents of 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, who was struck and killed six years ago this month by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to block the demolition of a Gazan home.

"Rachel chose to come to Gaza as a volunteer just as the U.S. invasion of Iraq was beginning, because she believed that the war would worsen the plight of the Palestinian people – and that this is the most forgotten part of the Occupied Territories," said Cindy Corrie, as the group´s bus prepared to roll through the Rafah crossing. "She discovered, and shared with the world through her writing, that the people of Gaza are struggling to make a good life for their families, and are so in need and worthy of our support. The situation has only gotten worse since then, and Craig and I are devoting our lives to carrying on Rachel´s work, in partnership with organizations such as CODEPINK."

Before completing the crossing into the Gaza Strip, the delegation sang peace songs both in front of the border gate and inside, by the passport counter.

"We hope our visit makes a lasting impression that neither the Egyptian government nor the people of Gaza will soon forget," Benjamin said.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Feeling Bad About Feeling Good

I was chatting recently with a friend of mine who is very active in the peace movement here in Israel/Palestine. She is an Israeli Jew who has devoted her life to seeking a just and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A good woman with a very good heart!

When Israel unleashed their assault on Gaza, my friend was in contact with friends of hers there who were living through the nightmare. She had already been hearing for some time about the impact of the Israeli blockade that was choking off life itself in the Gaza strip. Now, on top of all that suffering, the people there were being bombed and tormented by the violence, and even robo-calls from Israel, telling them to leave their homes (and go where???) or after their homes were bombed they were told to not fix up their homes because 'we are coming back.'

The people in Gaza were/are traumatized and living in perpetual deprivation and fear. My friend with her heart of gold, got very depressed as her friends were undergoing even more trauma and there wasn't a thing she could do about it.

She also found that her eating habits deteriorated, and her exercise routine went by the wayside. To her, it felt wrong to go to the gym and workout, when people were being bombed and terrorized not far from her home.

This unleashed a conversation between us. It was a conversation that I could surely relate to. Being in the helping professions (as a counselor) and being deeply committed to many movements for peace, justice and equality - I know how depressing it can be to see things happen that harm people. When people around me are suffering, it is hard to go about life as I know it. It feels disrespectful or dismissive somehow.

As I talked with my friend, however, and pondered this issue, I realized that I've heard this story over and over again. Many people who work for justice, peace and healing burn the candle at both ends, never taking time for themselves. They feel the work is too important and the stakes are too high. They don't feel like they have the 'luxury' of taking care of themselves. It feels selfish.

Yet, what good does it do anyone, if the helpers become ill or incapacitated by grief? We don't do anyone any favors by causing our own health and well being to suffer to be in solidarity with those who are hurting. Well, at least not for the long haul. Fasts, strikes, other actions that show solidarity are fantastic. Systematically allowing the deterioration of our health and stamina, however, actually works to defeat the causes to which we have given ourselves.

Remaining strong, healthy and focused, we stand the best chance to do the work we need to do and bring the changes we wish to experience.

It is difficult when we are sad or overwhelmed by grief to continue with the tasks at hand. Yet, when we are feeling low, we must do the things that restore us back to health and vitality. From strong, healthy minds and bodies come the actions that change things. We can't change the world if we let the events of life drag us into despair, hopelessness and illness. Defeat thrives on those things.

As tough as it is when we feel sad, depressed or grief stricken, we need to keep doing the things that keep us healthy and strong. No matter who is suffering around us, we owe it to them to keep ourselves in the best possible shape... in order to do our best to help them from a place of peace and power.

Eat well, exercise, meditate and relax some. Gandhi used to meditate every day, regardless of the 'importance' of the tasks he faced. In fact, when he faced his biggest challenges, he often increased his meditation time (much to the annoyance of those around him). He realized that the more peaceful and centered he was, the better he would be able to greet the challenges he faced.

Be well... and change the world!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

International Womens Day - Guest Post

*Nola's note: This is a beautiful tribute to women that my friend in Jerusalem, Steve Amsel, wrote a while back, and posts on his blog each International Women's Day. Steve is a special guy, and that is evidenced by this moving celebration of the special women in his life, and of women in general. Enjoy.


A painting by Charles White that always inspired me, it shows the strength and love of a woman.

I post this every International Womens Day…..

First, a question… why is there a special day designated for women? For centuries women took a ‘back seat’ in all social and political issues, forbidden to work, vote, and receive an education…. Yet they fought these injustices and won. Doing so, they proved that they are truly equal.. in fact in many cases superior to men.

Women are special! The first person to kiss us at our birth was a woman. The person that carried us for nine months with much discomfort and pain was a woman. For this woman, there is yet another special day set aside; Mother’s Day.

As a political activist, it was mostly women that inspired me to become what I am today… to name just a few there was…

My Mother Esther—a Saint in her own right

Freda Gardner—a family friend, left wing activist

Ann Yellin —–a family friend, trade union activist

Helen Keller - ’handicapped’ person that wouldn’t accept limitations

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn - communist leader, Joe Hill’s ‘Rebel Girl’

Rosa Parks - civil rights activist

My Aunt Sarah——who taught me that every human being has his worth.

There are more, many more… but the point remains that it was and is women that are the molders of what we are today. It is women that continued to make our world a better place despite every attempt to ‘keep them in their place’. They have proven that their place is where they want it to be… in politics, in the workplace, in the home and in the community. The same Neanderthal mentality that tried to keep them down is the same mentality that has tried to keep minorities down all over the world. This type of thinking cannot and will not be tolerated.

It used to be said that ‘behind every great man there stands a woman’… this is so not the case. In reality it should say ‘wherever there is a great man, there is a woman just as great or greater’.

Let us all salute the women in our life, past and present… not only on International Women’s Day… but everyday. Let us never forget their greatness, their love and the patience they have shown to the injustices that they were forced to put up with. Let us celebrate their day every day… without them we wouldn’t be here!

Helen Keller

Rosa Parks

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Tragedy of Begging Children

Driving from Jerusalem today to the near by village of Abu Gosh, I was greeted by a site that never ceases to break my heart. As I pulled up to a stop light, I came across the young Arab boys trying to pick up change from the cars waiting for the light. They usually are 'selling' chicklets in small packages, or they have sponges or rags and a bucket of water and start washing your windshield and windows - whether you want them to or not.

It makes me so sad. One of these boys, I have watched for many years. He's always in one of two places near the apartment where I stay. I've watched him grow up.

I wonder (and worry about) what will happen to these kids. What are they learning about life and themselves from their endeavors? In most all cases, parents are requiring the children to do this. The families are so poor and destitute that it is literally a source of income for them. The kids don't have a choice in the matter.

I've seen the same thing in other places I've traveled. In India, there are large numbers of begging children. Parents sometimes cripple or maim their children because it will make passers by more sympathetic and more likely to give money to the child. It is so very heartbreaking.

I've traveled with groups before where well meaning tourists will bring candy, pens and other trinkets to give to begging children. Sometimes tourists getting off of buses are literally mobbed by throngs of begging children. In some places the children can get very aggressive when groups of tourists arrive, because they have been 'trained' to know that tourists often bring things like this to give to kids.

One of the more offensive manifestations of this is when people throw handfuls of this type of stuff into a mass of kids. The kids begin to fight and claw to get theirs. It's a humiliating and dehumanizing experience.

I know that people are trying to be kind and help when they do this, but here is a suggestion. I worked with a tour company in Egypt one time where a certain amount of the tour price was donated by the Egyptian tour operator to schools and local social service organizations in the nearby villages. The tour operator actually told us that the best way to 'help' these kids is not to give directly to them (so as to encourage begging), but to give to these organizations so that the aid can be distributed where it will most help, and be delivered in a dignified manner. He even offered to facilitate this for anyone who wanted to make a donation above and beyond what was already included in their tour package price.

I loved this idea. First off, I truly dislike 'conditioning' kids to believe that their only value is to beg and ask for charity. Think of the damage to their little spirits that happens day after day when that is their activity or vocation. It is demeaning and belittling.

Giving to locally run aid organizations is a way to really help the kids (with food and school supplies) that will make a difference in their lives. It's a much better way to go about it.

If you will be traveling somewhere and want to take things for the impoverished children in that region, do a little research (either through your tour company or on your own) and find out the best way to give. It isn't as hard as it may seem, and you'll not only make a positive difference, you will also not inadvertently perpetuate the problem.

All children deserve love, respect and dignity. All children... everywhere.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Just another Thursday in Jerusalem

If you were on my email list in the 'old days' you remember that I used to write kind of a travel journal about my trips here. I thought I might use today's blog to write a little about what I've been doing here since I arrived.

Today I took a young man we had staying with us here in Jerusalem to the East Jerusalem bus station. He is from the US and is trying to get into Gaza to work with a Palestinian NGO (the equivalent to a US Non-profit organization). Israel has to grant 'permission' to anyone who wants to enter Gaza. Usually this process takes '5 business days.' This guy has been waiting for 3 weeks and counting. At the present time, Israel is delaying these applications and denying most. Because he can't get in to Gaza, his NGO is placing him in Ramallah for 2 weeks to see if the permission is forth coming. I have a rental car, but didn't feel comfortable driving into Ramallah (with him) and then having to come out alone, through the checkpoint, etc. So, I took him to the bus station and he made his way from there. I'm hoping he gets in to Gaza. The people there are suffering greatly, and need a great deal of support. God bless the people like this young man who are going (or are trying to go) to help in any way they can.

After that I planned to go to the Jerusalem mall to purchase a new tea kettle (ours in the apartment broke), a new cell phone face for my friend Steve (who I'm staying with) and a stapler (which I can't seem to live without, so I've discovered). On the way, I made a stop in Abu Gosh (an Arab village near Jerusalem) to have coffee with my good friend Deb who is a writer and peace visionary here. She recently wrote an essay called "Choose Life" that is making quite a splash on the Internet. You can find it here at Counterpunch: Choose Life - by Deb Reich @ Counterpunch.

Deb works for a wonderful organization called Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom:
(ne-vé shal-om / waah-at i-sal-aam: Hebrew and Arabic for Oasis of Peace [Isaiah 32:18]): A village, jointly established by Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, that is engaged in educational work for peace, equality and understanding between the two peoples.

Read more about it here: Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam - Oasis of Peace Website.

Deb and I had a great visit and then I headed off to Malcha (Jerusalem Mall). I was on the Begin Highway. I was getting close to Malcha when the traffic suddenly stopped. We were ushered off the highway by two motorcycle cops blocking the 3 lanes. I saw police vehicles and news crews speed past (they were the only ones allowed to continue on the road.) I wondered what had happened, but was mostly preoccupied with finding another route to my destination, since I don't know my way around all that well.

I got a little lost, tried a couple things and finally figured out that I was getting close to the mall again, approaching from a different direction. As I got close the main intersection I was looking for (next to the mall), I realized that the police were now routing us back onto the Begin Hwy (going the opposite direction I had been traveling in). In front of me there was a huge crowd of people standing in the middle of the road I was on. i could see police vehicles, ambulances and lots of police tape stretched across the road. I had to get back on the highway and head for home. When I arrived home, I found out what had happened. A guy driving a bulldozer attacked a police car, injured the policeman and was shot dead by police.

Link to article: Jerusalem Bulldozer Driver Shot Dead After Ramming Vehicles.

If I had left just a little earlier from Deb's I very well could have been there to witness this terrible event.

As it was, I returned home, and here I sit writing. It was an awful, violent event, to be sure, but I cringe as I read the article and am reminded that Israel has a policy of demolishing the family homes (which often house multiple generations of people) of people who commit these acts. It never ceases to amaze me that punishing family members of people who commit crimes is seen as acceptable. Can you imagine this happening in America? Misguided at best, at worst it fans the flames of hatred and resentment and worsens the situation for all concerned. "Collective punishment" for individual acts never brings a good result.

The same situation is happening to the people of Gaza. "Collective punishment" for individual/small group acts. It is happening there on a much larger scale, and with a lot more innocent people being harmed by the blockade and the ongoing Israeli military action. None of this will bring peace... it will only prolong it.

On that cheery note... I'll call it a day.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Israel-Palestine: A Land in Fragments

I'm using my blogging time today to share with you a very informative video about one of the primary reasons that so many peace initiatives in Israel & Palestine have failed. This is a short 2 minute video by the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee that literally shows the 'lay of the land' here and why Palestinians have difficulty seeing a future in what Israel and the US propose as a 'solution' to the current conflict.

The Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee carries out service, development, social justice, and peace programs throughout the world. American Friends Service Committee website

If the above video does not run properly, find the video here at this link:

Link to: Israel-Palestine: A Land in Fragments

Give it a look. Very educational.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More than One Way to Do It

I have a strange story for you today. Several years ago, I bought a little wall hanger that dispenses toilet paper rolls for the friend I stay with here in Jerusalem. It holds 6 rolls of toilet paper and 'presents' the bottom role for easy removal to put in the toilet paper dispenser.

The other day, I walked in to find that one of the fellows living in this apartment had put the toilet paper rolls in 'on end' - so basically 90 degrees off from how they should be fed into this dispenser.

I sighed and started to remove and replace the rolls 'correctly.' Suddenly I stopped and thought to myself, "OK, it's true... the rolls aren't in this thing right. But really.... who is it hurting?" I wondered why it is so important to me that the rolls be placed in there 'correctly.' The device still did it's job, although it probably held one less roll of paper than it would have if 'properly loaded.' Is that such a tragedy though? Probably not.

I decided to leave it as it was, as an exercise in understanding that not everything has to be done 'my way.' It might not be as efficient, but it still worked. I decided to relax and 'let it be.'

Many of us are attached to having things done our way. Lots of conflict between people, groups and even nations happens because of attachment to ways of doing things and ways of thinking.

What if we all work on letting others do things their way and let that be OK? What a concept. Simple, yet profound. It could change our world!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Just a Bigger Treadmill

I took a walk today in the French Hill/Mt. Scopus area of Jerusalem. I try to keep up on my exercising as best I can when I travel. Not an easy endeavor a lot of the time.

The cardio routine that I've invented here is to take a brisk walk around the neighborhood, followed by 10 trips up and down a long flight of stone steps. This works pretty well to keep my blood pumping and my muscles strengthened.

My Jerusalem Stairmaster

Today, as I was going up and down those stairs, I was reminded how much I dislike doing tasks that don't seem to get me anywhere. If I'm being productive and making progress it is easy for me to stay motivated in a task. If, however, the task doesn't really produce a noticeable outer change or result, I feel a little bored and can lose my motivation quickly.

I do cardio exercise on a treadmill when I'm at home. It always bores me a little. I pep it up by listening to music I like and staring out into the woods behind my house.

Today on the steps, I realized that the steps were "just a bigger treadmill." I was covering the same territory over and over again, but not gaining any ground what-so-ever. As I hauled my body up the stairs on about the 6th trip, I felt myself wishing this was over so I could get on to something productive!

Then a light bulb went off in my head. Of course doing these steps (or walking on the treadmill) is productive! Not in a 'gaining outer ground' way, but because of the impact it has on my body and my health. I'm not one who exercises because it makes me look better. Not that I mind looking my best - most people want that for themselves. My primary motivation in exercising is to be fit and strong. I want to be healthy enough to live my life and fulfil my purpose on this earth. The healthier I am, the more energy and vitality I have to direct towards the work that I believe is mine to do on this planet.

I thought about the fact that from one day to the next, as I 'do my treadmill' or 'do these stairs' I might not notice any change in my physical fitness level. Yet, after many, many repetitions, perhaps I will encounter a big hill to climb, in the course of a regular day, and I'll be able to bound up that hill without a thought to it's difficulty. Without my daily efforts where I travel the same ground over and over and over again, perhaps that wouldn't be possible. maybe I couldn't make it up that hill or maybe it would take me too long. Who knows?

As my thinking continued to expand (as I huffed and puffed up those stairs), I realized that this same dynamic is present in many human endeavors. Sometimes we work very hard towards something and might not see any outer confirmation that our efforts are paying off. Think of people who were the first wave of any great social movement: abolishing slavery, gaining the women's right to vote, the civil rights movement. The people in the early days of those battles met with unbelievable odds, persecution, ridicule, abuse and sometimes crushing blows to their very bodies and livelihoods. Many people who begin a campaign or an effort like that, don't live to see much progress at all in their particular effort, yet they are part of a collective, ongoing evolution. Without them, the process would not unfold in the same way. Without them, perhaps the eventual success that is finally achieved, wouldn't have been possible.

In any great movement for social justice and positive change, things must be done over and over and over again before the shift happens. Think how many marches, demonstrations, petitions, legal challenges and crushing defeats were endured in the early days of any of the movements I listed above. to those living through those days, it must have seemed as though nothing would ever change. Yet history shows that, although much work is still needed, we have made progress. Things have changed.

I sometimes lose patience and get disheartened when I consider the situation in the middle east, particularly the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Sometimes it seems like nothing will ever change, and that those of us who work for peace, justice and reconciliation just keep doing the same things over and over and over again. We write, we speak, we demonstrate, we sign petitions, we rebuild houses, over and over again. Yet, here we are, in seemingly the same place. Sometimes it even seems like we slide backwards. YET... we are growing the strength and the muscles to do what it takes to actually shift this reality. Each day that we repeat our efforts, we need to keep in mind that we can never know the exact importance of our work in that moment. We need to believe it's like a workout on a treadmill or a giant set of steps. We might feel like we are covering the same ground over and over again, however, we are cultivating strength, knowledge, wisdom and willpower to stay the course for the long haul. Those 'seeming to go nowhere' activities ARE worthwhile, no matter how they might appear on the surface.

This was kind of a revelation to me. My daily workouts don't actually physically move me from one place to another, yet they do have a cumulative affect on my overall health, fitness and stamina. The same is true of our outer efforts working towards any great endeavor in our lives. The larger and more daunting the task, the less likely a day's effort, or week's effort, or month's effort, or even a year's effort may seem to make. Yet it all actually does move us 'forward' in the direction of achieving our goal.

It's just a bigger treadmill. Keep walking the same ground over and over again... as long as it takes to find yourself in a new reality.