Sunday, February 28, 2010

When Opposites No Longer Attract

“The people who live in a golden age usually go around complaining how yellow everything looks.” ~ Randall Jarrell

Yesterday morning I received a call from a friend who’s traveling through Mississippi and stopped by a restaurant in Jackson. As she related her impressions of this restaurant and of the people working there, my friend was obviously quite impressed. As it turns out, this restaurant is part of a chain, even if one would never know it from the atmosphere it offers – friendly, proud, and happy to serve a good meal made even tastier by the nearly-forgotten charm of southern hospitality at its best.

“I remember when Raleigh was like this,” my friend said, “and now people seem to have forgotten what a true welcome is all about. I think it’s because of the influence of all the northern folks moving south; they move down because they like the weather and the attitude of the southern states, but as soon as they get here they try to change the very same things that attracted them to the place to start with.”

While my friend talked, my mind started racing. Was my friend right? As nice as it is to have a cup of Espresso on a sleepy morning, who wants to live in the south without ice tea? And what about our famous – or infamous, according to some – fried chicken? Nothing against the great benefits of a healthy meal, but I doubt anyone will argue that chicken tastes better fried than baked. We are not even going to touch the issue of tobacco…North Carolina is a tobacco state, yet smoking is banned mostly everywhere, with the result of our state wealth dissipating quickly. Crazy stuff to think about, some of it sad and some of it inevitable.

Our conversation led me to think of something else altogether; more specifically about how often we turn against the very things that attracted us to situations and people. For example, we can be attracted by the independent streak detected in a person of interest; once the relationship forges and familiarity sets in, the same quality which served as a magnet in the beginning is suddenly converted into an annoying trait we can’t stand in our companion.

We often approach other people and situation with mixed intentions – on one end, we are curious and attracted by the differences, and find dealing with an opposite mentally stimulating. On the other end, we wonder how much we can influence people and circumstances, and dive into situations we are not comfortable with for the sake of proving our personal power. In truth, people and situations can’t be changed that easily, and most of what is born out of the shuffle is long-felt resentment on both sides.

A change of approach – as ironic as those words sound in this context – is in order if we hope to find a middle ground. When we feel unhappy with our present circumstances, it would be helpful if we could remember what attracted us to those circumstances to start with, and try to shift the focus back to what we loved about the person, the place or the arrangement. If, upon reflection, we can instead no longer find the magic behind the process of the original attraction, we can safely know that chapter of our lives has run its course and it is time to move on.

People and situations don’t have the power to make us unhappy, unless we give that power to them; we can’t always change others, or alter the situations in our lives, but we can change the way we look at them, and maybe rediscover the good things we have forgotten. Sometimes our own focus is what can make all the difference.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Guidance vs. Control

“Give people enough guidance to make the decisions you want them to make. Don’t tell them what to do, but encourage them to do what is best.” ~ Jimmy Johnson

A few days ago, I had a conversation with my daughter’s preschool teacher. Her concern was that even if Morgan scores exceptionally well on tests, she rarely follows directions, and prefers instead to follow her own mental map.

After hearing the same things over the years about my boys, her observations didn’t come as a surprise. Whether it’s a genetic gift or flaw, or it is a marked streak of independence in all of them, all my kids think outside mainstream boundaries, and prefer to find alternate ways to get to the answer. That said, all kids are exceptional students and always score very high on their tests.

When I confirmed that even at home all three children tend to be free thinkers and quite stubborn, I also explained that I usually give them three chances when I tell them to do something; at the third chance, if they don’t follow through, they are punished. The teacher gave me a patronizing look and asked me why I give them three chances. I quite calmly explained that I don’t run a dictatorship, but I’m trying instead to raise self-responsible human beings who are empowered to do, or not do, something because they know it is the right thing, and not because they have a gun pointed to their head. The teacher smiled and simply said that people have different ways of looking at parenting.

I suppose they do. I, for one, try hard to discern between control and guidance. I expect my children to respect what I say, but I feel that respect is a two-way street, and we all need to pick our battles. My goal is to raise people who can think for themselves and that, as long as they do so respectfully, are not afraid to ask questions or stand up for what they believe in.

Although the two are often confused, guidance and control are not the same. Control is exercised to overpower a person, and uses fear as its main tactic; guidance is used to empower someone, and uses knowledge as its foundation. In my opinion, empowering people and giving them the tools to succeed on their own, is by far a better choice than forcing them to follow through with a course of action they don’t understand.

Our kids are no longer allowed to learn from their own mistakes. Our society has largely banned failure, in fear of hurting people’s self-esteem. Nothing wrong with fostering one’s self-worth – and certainly, when it comes down to children, supervision is needed to ensure the mistakes they make are constructive and not detrimental to their evolvement as individuals – but stopping people from occasionally making the wrong choices is no different than clipping a bird’s wings.

The association between cause and effect is really important, in my opinion, to grow into a self-responsible and self-disciplined individual. Even in this case, there is a tremendous difference between the two – a disciplined person will do everything right if someone is watching because he/she is conditioned to function on command; a self-disciplined individual knows what to do even when alone because he/she has been taught how to think.

It is time we do away with the cookie-cutter mentality, and begin to produce individuals who can think for themselves. Each of us is a unique design, and we should be honored and respected for thinking individually. Mass production rarely reflects high quality.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ghosts of the Past

“It is easy to be negative about past mistakes and unhappiness. But it is much more healing to look at ourselves and our past in the light of experience, acceptance, and growth. Our past is a series of lessons that advance us to higher levels of living and loving. The relationships we entered, stayed in, or ended taught us necessary lessons. Some of us have emerged from the most painful circumstances with strong insights about who we are and what we want. Our mistakes? Necessary. Our frustrations, failures, and sometimes stumbling attempts at growth and progress? Necessary too. Each step of the way, we learned. We went through exactly the experiences we need to, to become who we are today. Each step of the way, we progressed. Is our past a mistake? No. The only mistake we can make is mistaking that for the truth. Today, God, help me let go of negative thoughts I may be harboring about my past circumstances or relationships. I can accept, with gratitude, all that has brought me to today.” ~ Author unknown

It’s quite amazing how one can look at things from different points of perspective and see completely different things. Looking at our past is no different.

Those who have read my thoughts before already know that I am a strong supporter of wiping the board clean and starting things anew. There is little benefit in dwelling in the past, and feeding energy to events and people that are – or should be – ancient history; unless, of course, we need to clean house before we close the doors to their roles in our lives. At some point, it’s best to count our losses, and understand that as long as we live in the past, we willingly forfeit our present and future.

The past, however, is part of the blueprint we used to build the person we are today. Even if it is good to detach from the emotional charge attached to particular moments and significant individuals that have touched our lives in a negative way, it is also important to realize that we wouldn’t be who we are today if those events hadn’t happened, or those people hadn’t walked into our lives.

On a personal note, when I was kid I was the perfect image of the nerd minus the double-lens glasses. I was too skinny and geeky, and, like a puppy, my feet had grown ahead of the rest of my body. To make things even less attractive to a crowd of judgmental teenagers, I also loved to read and was extremely shy – the perfect recipe for an outcast. Being shunned hurt my feelings back then, but I can see now, many years later, how that superficial rejection helped me bring out the best I had.

Since I was never busy on social calls, I decided to throw myself into volunteer work. I helped everyone on my path, and felt good about it. When I was old enough, I signed up as a volunteer EMT, took a course, and started working after school. That was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself; after seeing true suffering, my teenage problems suddenly seemed really minor. And, that first shot at community service set the tone for more volunteer work through the years, which helped me increase my level of compassion.

Another thing I threw myself into was writing. I loved poetry, and I spent my free time writing. One day, when I was sixteen, I met a lady who was president of a writing club. She read some of my poems, and helped me get them published; from that day on, most Saturday afternoons I attended meetings at the literary club. The usual crowd was a lot older than me, but I felt totally at ease around them.

As hard as it was to deal with that type of social response as a teenager, the hardship of it is what pushed me to explore alternative interests and peeled the layers covering my true strengths. Rejection from my peer is what led me to the person I am today, and I wonder sometimes how different my life would be right now if I had been part of the popular crowd as a kid.

The past is past, and it shouldn’t be allowed to hurt us anymore, since it is only a ghost of things that have already run their time, but it should also be embraced with gratitude, as over time it has etched the unique individual we have become.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


“Maturity is that time when mirrors in our minds turn to windows, and instead of seeing the reflection of ourselves we see others.” ~ Author Unknown

If my middle son and my daughter were closer in age, people would think they are twins; not only because they look so alike physically, but mostly because of their identical characters. You see, in my life I was blessed with a royal pair, the king and queen of stage drama.

Naturally one would think the two are peas in a pod, since they are so like-minded, but I can assure you they are quite the opposite. With skin as thin as air and an everlasting primadonna attitude, both could be cast in an Othello performance. And of course, as all artists worth their salt, they nearly drive everyone else to the bottle.

The most maddening and equally hilarious side of their performance is the way they complain about each other’s behaviors when they know perfectly well they both behave exactly alike and have been guilty of the same action in the past. I found it quite entertaining when my son came up to me the other day and informed me that his sister was chasing the cat; the moment I chastised her about leaving the poor soul alone, I turned around and saw Michael chasing the cat himself! When I asked him what he was doing he simply answered that he only wanted to pet him. Never mind the fact that the cat was trying his best to blend in with the furniture to escape both of them. The same happens with anything else – Morgan will say something about her brother misbehaving at the table, without even realizing that she is doing the very same thing at the moment she turns him in. Or, Michael makes fun of her for losing an item and then will raise Cain because he can’t find something “he is absolutely certain” he brought home from school which miraculously materializes in his desk the next day.

They are just kids - and siblings at that - and it is normal for them to lash out at times since they are still trying to work out better ways to handle conflicts. By criticizing their own actions reflected in others, they are able to assess reactions and determine necessary adjustments to their own behaviors.

Many of us, however, don’t outgrow this stage of learning, and even in our adult years, we continue the pattern of only seeing our own flaws reflected in others, although we quite rarely recognize we are judging ourselves. It happens often that someone obsessed with control criticizes someone else with the same problem; or that someone who feels insecure about their appearance or intelligence lashes out at another person they perceive lacking those attributes.

Assessing and criticizing our flaws in others allows us two different opportunities – for one, we are able to openly talk of what bothers us about ourselves without standing under the spotlight, and for second we usually annoy others enough that they will lash out in return; being the object of someone’s anger validates the flawed image we have of ourselves, and fills our need to self-punish.

As Ken Keys wrote: “A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world. Everyone you meet is your mirror.”

Monday, February 22, 2010

An Unquenchable Thirst

“Many activities are really distractions that excite us but don't satisfy, just leaves us wanting more distraction. But, they can be bought with money, and worth every penny of it.” ~ Djofraleigh

I read this quote a few days ago and, for some reason, it has been lingering in my mind ever since. Yesterday, taking advantage of a little extra time I had available for myself, I sat alone for a little while and pondered the meaning of such a profound statement.

In so many ways those words reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my children a few years ago, concerning the consumption of sugary beverages instead of water. At the time, I noticed that my sons – both avid consumers of fruit juice – were constantly drinking and went through numerous bottles of juice at the speed of light. Although I’m aware of the fact that children require a greater intake of fluids to boost their growth, their thirst seemed to exceed expectations.

As an experiment, I instructed them to substitute half the juice they were drinking with water, to see if changing the type of drink would make a difference. It did indeed. After drinking a glass of water, more time would pass before they needed another drink. The next week we substituted two thirds of their fruity drinks with water, and their need to drink repeatedly dramatically decreased. We came to the conclusion that because water was the actual nutrient they needed, their intake didn’t need to be so high – one glass of water could satisfy their thirst equally to five glasses of juice.

Similarly, we go through life trying to satisfy our thirst to belong to something greater with activities and people which occupy our time and momentarily fill the void, but in the end, our needs of unconditional love and acceptance are not met. We attempt to quench our insatiable thirst with trinkets and gadgets, lovers and sounds, or we fall victims of glamour, illusion and substance abuse, easily substituting external feeds for what we shouldn’t travel too far to find.

Unconditional love and acceptance are the waters of an eternal spring tucked under the folds of our immediate consciousness, safely concealed by a layer of camouflaging thoughts. If we can allow ourselves to rake through the covering brush, we will, over time, find the sweet-flowing waters running deep within us, and our thirst will be quenched.

The beginning verse of Psalm 23 has always resonated with me particularly. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lay down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul…”

This verse reflects a fundamental truth. The satisfaction we crave cannot be found without until one can find it within. External feeds are no different than sugar water or a glass of fruit juice – they satisfy our thirst temporarily and allow us an instant feeling of wellbeing, but their effect is certainly not a long-lasting one, since the love we receive from our outside world is mostly conditional. If we learn how to tap into the eternal waters of universal, unconditional love, the satisfaction lasts much longer and it automatically replenishes when we thirst for more.

There are many ways to uncover the eternal spring of inner love, and not one person’s path is the same as any other; we can reach our source through service to others, through inner silence, or even by accepting the higher truth of a divine nature in all. No path is better or worse than the others, but rather, all paths are uniquely customized for the individuals ready to walk them. The only thing that matters is that the spring is found, regardless of the tools we used to remove the debris, or the trail we chose to get to it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Changing Planes" - A Book Review

It doesn’t happen often that one stumbles into a new book and sees many pieces of the puzzle of life suddenly fall into place. That was my experience a few nights ago, as I got lost in the timeless words of Changing Planes by Laurie Brenner.

When I received my order from Amazon, I was relieved the book was not too long, and I figured I would read it in a just a few days. As it turned out, I couldn’t put it down, and I finished reading it the next day.

I don’t think words can properly convey what I gained from reading this book, and since I believe that each person benefits differently from the same experience, I won’t bore you with details of why this book is just so amazing to me – I will let you decide for yourself how it will affect your life.

Changing Planes tells the story of Madison, a young and ambitious VP of an upper scale department store. The moment Madison reaches her gate and waits to board a plane headed to the Caribbean, odd things begin to happen, but she quickly quiets her screaming intuition down with a pacifier of rational explanations. Strange occurrences continue after the plane takes off, and they rapidly escalate until Madison has two choices – she can ignore the gifts given to her and continue her life with a limited perception, or she can embrace a new reality and change her world.

The end of the book is jarring to the senses, as the reader awakens to the awareness of how choices made throughout life can deeply affect every step of our journey. Our lives are so intricately interconnected with those of others that a small change can alter the course of many destinies.

Changing Planes made me laugh and cry, but mostly it gave me the opportunity to take an honest glimpse deep down within my own soul. As I held the book in my hand, I felt almost as if Universe had gifted me with an extra chip to play a more exciting game.

Laurie Brenner’s style of writing is delightful and easy to follow, sprinkled with just enough humor to make it appealing to the young and old alike, and her spiritual lessons are powerful enough to make the story unforgettable.

Changing Planes is not just a story; it can be YOUR story, if you dare to look within with an open mind and a heart ready for personal transformation.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Door Never Considered

“The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live.” ~ Flora Whittemore

My daughter is not a morning person. Each day, getting her out of bed classifies as a struggle in itself, but getting her ready to get out the door on time to get to school is nothing short than a Herculean task.

Getting dressed is the big challenge – since the time she turned one – and could barely walk – Morgan decided glamour was the name of her game. Before making her appearance, the diva has to select her costume, which involves laying out five different outfits on her bed and making sure they are all color-coordinated and matching her mood of the day; accessories are the next step and their selection takes just as long as choosing the clothes. An hour after getting up, she finally comes downstairs (no rush there either) and takes fifteen minutes to brush her hair.

Daily routine: Morgan gets up around eight and we rush out of the house at 9:15, often eating breakfast in the car because we are running out of time. Rare is the morning when I don’t ponder on the fact that patience must be the lesson I came to learn in this lifetime.

Yesterday morning she surprised me by getting up on her own and sporting a great mood. She tiptoed downstairs and pick-a-booed me in the kitchen, her little cherub eyes sparkling with an unknown glee for that time of day. My first thought was that she was either coming down with a strange virus, or this happy-so-early-in-the-morning attitude was the result of a strange planetary alignment I wasn’t aware of. Regardless, I wasn’t going to look into a gifted horse’s mouth; I smiled brightly and swept her up in my arms. Then, reluctant to let go of the moment, and aware of Morgan’s competitive nature, a sudden thought pierced the fiber of my thoughts and sparked an idea. “Let’s see who can dress first. I bet that I can get dressed faster than you can.” Magic words – Morgan ran up the stairs ahead of me and flew to her bedroom to get dressed. In two minutes she was out of the room with clothes on! I wasn’t about to waste a perfect chance to succeed, so I milked the situation for all it was worth. “I bet I can brush my teeth before you!” I said running to the bathroom. She ran to her own bathroom and brushed her teeth. We repeated the same routine for other tasks and, as if by miracle, we were washed, clothed, fed and ready to go at 9:05.

In the car I couldn’t help wondering why I never thought of appealing to this side of her personality before. We got to school before they even opened the doors, nobody got angry or stressed, and Morgan gave me a huge hug before getting out of the car. Was this the secret I had been searching for? Suddenly, the words “I bet I can do this faster than you” sounded awfully similar to “Open Sesame.”

On the way back home I thought of how many times we continue knocking on doors that refuse to open, and we become frustrated when we get little or no response; we waste our energies and become annoyed, and never once do we think that knocking harder will not make much of a difference; sometimes, we just have to try a different door.

Certainly, this could be just a momentary lapse of drama for her, but looking at it from a different point of perspective, it’s also possible that stifling the original conflict using a game was all that was needed.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things will continue the same way. Meanwhile, I will take what I can, and I will be thankful for blessing hidden around every corner. Sometimes a different approach is all we need to open new doors leading us to our preferred destination.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Wake-Up List

“Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.” ~ Alphonse Karr

Many of us begin the New Year by making resolutions. By February, the majorities of those goals – even the modest ones we thought we could keep up with – slip slowly away, and the patterns of old habits sneak back into their familiar place in our lives. Very often the problem lies in the fact that we set goals for ourselves that are too hard to maintain. With little concrete support and a myriad of daily demands, the lure of a fresh new starts wears quickly out.

True life makeovers are not impossible, but a few steps need to be respected. Victoria Moran, author of “Living a Charmed Life: Your Guide to Finding Magic in Every Moment and Meaning in Every Day” suggests that we should list ten things for which we are grateful before we get out of bed each morning. The items on the list don’t have to be big things – I’m grateful for my cat sleeping on my chest; I’m grateful for having dinner left over so I won’t have to cook again tonight; I’m grateful that my coffee is brewing downstairs. The list can indeed be endless and as creative as one wants to make it.

Very often, in fact, we demand a radical change when many things in our lives work well as they are. Acknowledging, and being thankful for, what already is good in our lives allows us to start our day with a feeling that there are positive things in our world we can build from.

It is also important to take quiet time in the mornings to devote a few minutes to meditation and prayer. One doesn’t have to be religious to meditate and enjoy a few minutes of silence. By doing so, the mind will have the opportunity to ease into the new day rather than being tossed mercilessly into instant chaos. I personally discovered, several years ago, that if I had any intention of beginning my day on a positive note, I had to make time to honor myself and my thoughts. That said, some mornings I could dedicate a few extra moments to it than other days, but ultimately, I could always find five minutes. We often look for excuses that will allow us to slack off, but if we truly are determined to make changes in our lives, we will find the extra time.

These are small steps, but are indeed important ones to take if we ever hope to improve our realities and create a healthier living approach. Even the fastest runners had to learn in the beginning how to place one foot in front of the other.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In the Western Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and it occurs forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays). It falls on a different date each year, and it can occur as early as February 4 or as late as March 10.

Ash Wednesday gets its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful as a sign of repentance. The ashes used are gathered after the palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday are burned. In the liturgical practice of some churches, the ashes are mixed with the oil of the Catechumens (one of the sacred oils used to anoint those about to be baptized), though some churches use ordinary oil. This paste is used by the clergyman who presides at the service to make the sign of the cross, first upon his own forehead and then on each of those present who kneel before him at the altar rail. As he does so, he recites the words: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Not all Christian churches observe Ash Wednesday or Lent. The Bible does not mention Ash Wednesday or the custom of Lent, however, the practice of repentance and mourning in ashes is found in 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3; and Matthew 11:21.

Ash Wednesday follows Fat Tuesday, the last day of the carnival season, so called because believers used all the fat left over in their kitchens to prepare rich foods before the traditional fasting of Lent.

Since the earliest times of the Church, there is evidence of some kind of Lenten preparation for Easter. Lent becomes more regularized after the legalization of Christianity in A.D. 313. The Council of Nicea (325), in its disciplinary canons, noted that two provincial synods should be held each year, "one before the 40 days of Lent." St. Athanasius (d. 373) in this "Festal Letters" implored his congregation to make a 40-day fast prior to the more intense fasting of Holy Week. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) in his Catechectical Lectures, which are the paradigm for our current RCIA programs, had 18 pre-baptismal instructions given to the catechumens during Lent. St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444) in his series of "Festal Letters" also noted the practices and duration of Lent, emphasizing the 40-day period of fasting. Finally, Pope St. Leo (d. 461) preached that the faithful must "fulfill with their fasts the Apostolic institution of the 40 days," again noting the apostolic origins of Lent. One can safely conclude that by the end of the fourth century, the 40-day period of Easter preparation known as Lent existed, and that prayer and fasting constituted its primary spiritual exercises.

Once the 40 days of Lent were established, the next development concerned how much fasting was to be done. In Jerusalem, for instance, people fasted for 40 days, Monday through Friday, but not on Saturday or Sunday, thereby making Lent last for eight weeks. In Rome and in the West, people fasted for six weeks, Monday through Saturday, thereby making Lent last for six weeks. Eventually, the practice prevailed of fasting for six days a week over the course of six weeks, and Ash Wednesday was instituted to bring the number of fast days before Easter to 40. The rules of fasting varied. First, some areas of the Church abstained from all forms of meat and animal products, while others made exceptions for food like fish. For example, Pope St. Gregory (d. 604), writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury, issued the following rule: "We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs." Second, the general rule was for a person to have one meal a day, in the evening or at 3 p.m.

These Lenten fasting rules also evolved. Eventually, a smaller repast was allowed during the day to keep up one's strength from manual labor. Eating fish was allowed, and later eating meat was also allowed through the week except on Ash Wednesday and Friday. Dispensations were given for eating dairy products if a pious work was performed, and eventually this rule was relaxed totally. (However, the abstinence from even dairy products led to the practice of blessing Easter eggs and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.)

Over the years, modifications have been made to the Lenten observances, making our practices not only simple but also easy. Ash Wednesday still marks the beginning of Lent, which lasts for 40 days, not including Sundays. The present fasting and abstinence laws are very simple: On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the faithful fast (having only one full meal a day and smaller snacks to keep up one's strength) and abstain from meat; on the other Fridays of Lent, the faithful abstain from meat. People are still encouraged "to give up something" for Lent as a sacrifice. (An interesting note is that technically on Sundays and solemnities like St. Joseph's Day (March 19) and the Annunciation (March 25), one is exempt and can partake of whatever has been offered up for Lent.

Information about Ash Wednesday used in this post was found at:

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Three Simple Words

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about the problems she had with her mother in the past. Knowing the mother, I could completely understand where she was coming from, yet one thing was as clear as spring water – even if her feelings were justified, my friend was not happy.

The discontent began when Sharon – the name is fictitious to protect her identity - was a small child; likely, it probably goes back even further, but her memories of times past only regress to a certain point, right around the time when she was about five years old.

Her mother was a victim of her own choices. After marrying young to escape abusive parents of her own, she had become pregnant with Sharon when she was only nineteen, and had almost immediately found herself trapped; with a much older and controlling husband, and a daughter to care for, the poor woman was stuck in a role she despised. She had dreams when she was young, and many times, when she finally laid her head down at night, she could shut out the world and live the life she wished she could have.

Her disappointment toward life turned into anger first and in control over her daughter’s life. Sharon had no choices; her mother made them all for her. That kind of smothering control triggered the opposite approach to parenting in Sharon. Terrified of growing into her mother, she had chosen to be a friend only and couldn’t bring herself to discipline her own daughter. As her daughter quickly began descending a vicious spiral of occasional drug use and bad company at sixteen years of age, her maternal instinct nudged her to take control of the situation, but her past experiences blocked her from taking charge. Indirectly, her mother was still controlling her. Sharon knew it was time to make some changes.

She felt like she hated her mother even more now, and she held her responsible for her own daughter’s poor choices. She ranted over the older woman’s mistakes almost two and a half decades earlier, and the first words out of her mouth were in regard of the fact that her mother had ruined her life first and she was now working on her granddaughter. That’s where I had to stop her – her mother, wrapped into her own anger, might have been abusive in the beginning, but now she was the one picking up where her mother had left off. It was time to let go of past resentments and focus on present problems.

Letting go was hard, as by letting go of the chokehold her mother had her in she felt she was condoning her actions. It never occurred to her that by forgiving her mother she was not letting the old lady off the hook, but she was allowing herself to finally be free from the influences of the past.

She finally did. About a week ago, she went to visit her mother and told her about the feelings she had fostered all these years. In return, her mother explained her own feelings toward her and asked to be forgiven. Sharon could not utter words of forgiveness, until her mother broke down and said: “Don’t make the same mistakes I made. I can’t change what happened when you were a little girl, but you can change what will happen to your daughter.”

Sharon went home and thought about the events of late. Her mother was right – no amount of anger, of resentment or justification could change the past, but maybe there was hope for the future. She picked up the phone and called her mother. “I forgive you,” she said, nothing else; then she hung up. Those three words suddenly lifted the weight she had carried on her back all her life, and removed the blinders from her own eyes. When her daughter got home that evening, she called her into the living room and they had a long talk. The daughter half-way listened and then got up to prepare to go out with her friends, but Sharon stopped her before she could walk out of the room. “Not tonight,” she said, “tonight you’re staying home.”

Sharon was free. Forgiving her mother didn’t make her accept her mother’s ways, but it gave her an edge to stop those behaviors from affecting her present life and her parental skills. Unknowingly, she had found the key to come into herself.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Time is Now

“I will act now. I will act now. I will act now. Henceforth, I will repeat these words each hour, each day, everyday, until the words become as much a habit as my breathing, and the action which follows becomes as instinctive as the blinking of my eyelids. With these words I can condition my mind to perform every action necessary for my success. I will act now. I will repeat these words again and again and again. I will walk where failures fear to walk. I will work when failures seek rest. I will act now for now is all I have. Tomorrow is the day reserved for the labor of the lazy. I am not lazy. Tomorrow is the day when the failure will succeed. I am not a failure. I will act now. Success will not wait. If I delay, success will become wed to another and lost to me forever. This is the time. This is the place. I am the person.” ~ Og Mandino

When I was younger, I hated Mondays. To me – and I felt justified in my feeling because most people I knew felt the same way – Mondays represented another long week to pass before finally crossing the threshold of a new weekend, when I could finally let my hair down and remember I was a human being.

One day, not too long ago, I got up on a particularly dreary Monday morning. It was cold and raining outside, and I had to go to the grocery store. Never mind the fact that I don’t particularly like shopping…on a day like this I would have been happy to do just about anything else at home instead than going out. So I didn’t; I dropped my daughter off at school and went back home. I looked for a list of excuses that would justify my lack of resolve – the closet REALLY needed straightening out, the kitchen floor HAD to be mopped, you name it, I thought of it…anything that could keep me from going out into the elements was welcome in my book, no matter how much I normally didn’t like the task.

The morning rolled along, and it was time to pick my daughter up from school. We got back, and I went to make coffee…I was out of sugar! No big deal, I thought, the creamer itself is fairly sweet, and surely I could enjoy coffee without the extra bit of sugar until that evening, when my husband could just bring some home from work. I drank my coffee and went to do a few other things around the house. I realized I was out of window cleaner…hmmm…a little vinegar could fix that, and the problem was solved. Then, it was time for dinner preparations; and suddenly, I remembered two ingredients I had to have to fix the meal I had already thawed meat out for. That was my final defeat; I got my daughter’s coat on and we went to the store. Not only did I have to go to the store in the end anyway, but now I even had to drag along a tired five-year-old who didn’t want to miss Dora the Explorer and couldn’t find a shoe. To top it all, it was raining even harder now, the temperature had dropped, and a hungry child is never a good companion to have at the check-out line, where candy sparkles from the shelves like diamonds waiting for a thief. The trip to the store which would have taken thirty minutes of my time in the morning turned into a messy journey, just because I allowed procrastination to set the tone.

When we perceive something as being unpleasant, our first instinct is to postpone the inevitable, even if we create a greater sense of stress for ourselves that way. No matter how hard we try to focus on other things, thoughts of challenges ahead are like clouds covering up our sunshine.

Whether we are dealing with health-related issues, situations with other people, or even a personal matter, very few people have the self-discipline necessary to take action immediately, if the effort or the confrontation can be pushed forward and not faced at that moment. Unfortunately, whatever is not approached and dealt with now will not disappear, but it will instead continue to amplify and get worse.

We have the power to control the majority of events unfolding in our lives. The first step is to take action when it’s needed. The best time is usually right now.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

From the Words of a Gypsy: My Love Story

If I look back, and rewind the movie of my life long enough to glimpse at the last twenty years or so, I can see that my marriage was in the cards since before I met my husband, or, even better, it was mapped on the lines of my hand. Odd thing to say, you think? Well, listen to my story, and you might agree with me.

On a cold winter morning, a few weeks shy of Christmas 1986, I skipped school with a friend, and we went to hang out at Piazza Dei Miracoli, near the Leaning Tower. Bored as we were, we scanned the crowd of tourists brave enough to defy the weather in favor of snapping a few pictures, until we noticed an old woman, clad in traditional gipsy clothes, who asked if we were interested in having our palms read. We giggled and agreed.

The woman took my hand, and studied it for a few moments, then lifted her deep chocolate brown eyes to meet mine. “You are getting ready to go on a trip” she said “which will redirect the path you will follow”. Since I was preparing to go to London for the Christmas holidays, my attention was immediately piqued. “When you get back, you will be so enthusiastic from your vacation that you will seek ways to go back. A few months later, you will meet a man, you will marry him and will travel far together, and to see your family again you will embark on a long, long trip”.

After reading my friend’s palm the woman left without even collecting the few coins we had for her, but I couldn’t stop thinking about her words. To the ears of a dreamy teenager they went beyond the notes of a sweet melody, and I began to fantasize about this Mr. Wonderful who would allegedly sweep me off to a faraway land.

Months went by. I went on my trip and fell in love with London; deep down, I secretly hoped to be able to move there some day. That summer, my parents went to a different beach establishment than the one they normally went to, and I noticed it was right beside a morsel of beach owned by the American base in Tirrenia.

It wasn’t long – as I lay on the shore sunbathing – until I noticed a very handsome lifeguard staring in my direction. He nodded when he saw me looking back, and soon the smiles began. Still nursing my dream of moving to London, I jumped at the chance to practice my English, and after gathering all the courage I had, I went to the snack bar of the American establishment to get a soda.

My handsome lifeguard was there. So was the beach doggie, Boo-Boo. I leaned down to pad him, and the lifeguard smiled at me. I smiled back. He gave Boo-Boo most of the ham in his sandwich – a gesture that certainly earned him several points in my book. We began to talk, half broken English and half broker Italian. By the time I left, he had asked me on a date.

We went on our first date on June 16 1987, the night of celebration for St. Ranieri, the patron of Pisa. We watched fireworks and had pizza, and finally sealed that magical evening with a kiss. We continued to date until John left Italy in March 1988; I followed him a few months later in November 1988.

That day was a bittersweet one for me – I was following the love of my life, yet I was saying goodbye to all I had loved and held dear until then. That was twenty years ago - John and I will celebrate our twenty-first wedding anniversary this spring. As a couple we have encountered some hard moments, but have conquered each stone and moved forward together. The old gypsy’s prediction still lives on.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Links of Light (Repost)

We can't all like everyone all the time. But we can work harder at tolerance, compassion, empathy, generosity, and a genuine desire to recognize that we are all in this together.” ~Nicsautoservice

I can honestly say that I like just about everyone I run into – not necessarily because I agree with their views or ways of life, but rather because I have come to understand we are all equally important and all share a common denominator: As Wayne Dyer so perfectly phrased it, we are all spiritual beings on an earthly trip.

We simply approach life differently. We look at things through the filters of socio-cultural structures and personal upbringing, and not one brain is wired exactly like another. Ultimately, we are the product of two factors: personality and environment. When it comes to human beings, I believe that it is more accurate to assume we are a product of Nature plus Nurture, rather than Nature vs. Nurture. We are separated by distance, genes, cultural imprints, language, political and religious affiliations, yet our basic makeup is the same for all.

Let’s look at the concept of light for a moment - light can be natural or artificial. Natural light can be produced by the sun, the moon, or fire. Artificial light can be identified as belonging to even more sub-categories – lightbulbs, for example, can be of different shapes, intensity and color. Specific types of light are used for different purposes, and are adapted to fit individual taste and need, but they are ultimately all sources of light produced by raw energy.

Our light quotient is what makes us all different yet alike. Some of us shine brighter than others, some are crafted in different shapes and colors, some are meant to be dimmer and more subdued, and some put out psychedelic flashes of light for shock value, but aside from our output and physical appearance we are all superficially different manifestations of the same core of light; when we connect to one another, we all shine as one source.

Even more eye-opening is the concept that we are indeed all pieces of the same puzzle, regardless of the position we hold within the design. We might be a corner piece, a frame piece or an inside piece, but each of us is unique and irreplaceable in the greater scheme of things. Even those we don’t like or get along with; those we judge and accuse; those we deem inferior or useless. When all is said and done, and the earthly illusion of superiority and inferiority is shed, we all feel, laugh, hurt, love and cry; we are all vulnerable and prone to being scared when no one is watching; we all smile when something good happens.

Regardless of which masks we wear, or what float we parade on, we are all part of the same Carnival.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Keeping Focused -- Lessons Learned from a Game of Darts

“All you have to do is know where you're going. The answers will come to you of their own accord.” ~ Earl Nightingale

Several years ago, my husband and his family were part of a dart team, and they met every Wednesday evening to compete against other people. Having just arrived to the US from Italy where darts are pretty much un unknown sport, I was intrigued by the accuracy of their game; the few times I tried to throw darts myself, I was relieved that no living being was around – one would have thought I had disjointed arms and aimed the darts at everything but the board.

One day, while we were at his parents’ house and the whole family was practicing for the next tournament, I asked my husband if he could share the secret of his success. “Just fix your eyes on the bullseye,” he said, “and you can’t go wrong.”

Ha! Maybe that worked for him, but in my case I think my eyes and my hands were going through a bit of a cold war and were not talking to one another. I fixed my gaze on the red spot intensely enough that I could have burned a hole into it, but my darts were still all over the place. Angry at myself for my lack of skill, I thought about giving up, but something bigger than that – pride, I think they call it – refused to lift the white flag, and here I was again the next weekend - alone this time to at least save my dignity – shooting darts like a toddler playing with a new water gun. With time my ability to at least hit the board improved, and I even managed to score decently a few times, although I never gained the level of skill the rest of the family had achieved over the years. I wasn’t good enough to play at tournaments, but I could hold my own in a match played at home with the family.

Through the years I realized that approaching new challenges is no different than learning how to shoot darts. You set your eyes on the goal and move through the motions, allowing your mind to evaluate and adjust each time you obtain a less than desirable result. In the end, you might not become an expert, but you will have learned that nothing is unachievable if you continue to try.

The greatest problem with meeting challenges is that many times we don’t focus in the right direction. If rather than staring at the small, red spot in the middle of the board I stared instead at the picture frame hung nearby, sooner rather than later I would have shot a dart in the forehead of the hound in the picture. Focusing on the challenge and assimilating it through our senses is what enables us to send the right data to our higher mind. Once we have a clear picture of what we plan to achieve, our inner mind gets to work to figure out ways to bypass obstacles and deliver us at the doorstep of success.

Clarity is the first step to going somewhere and achieving anything. If a mother wants a more challenging job which will pay her more but will require her to work longer hours, she might find herself in a pickle of a situation trying to figure out how to meet the demands of childcare, so although she doesn’t do it intentionally, she will self-sabotage to give herself more time to work out the details. If she decides the job is what she truly wants, and childcare is the only obstacle in the way, then she can give her mind something well defined to work toward. When I have asked a few people what they want out of life, many of them have replied that they just want to be happy, but what does that exactly mean? Each person is wired to find happiness at different levels, so by saying they want to be happy, they leave the spectrum of possibilities too wide open for the mind to come up with a plan.

Building a beautiful house is not too difficult a job, if one has taken the time to draw a good model plan.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Faulty Design

“Unless you start doing something different, you’re in for more of the same.” ~Author unknown.

Have you ever met someone who will complain daily about life, but won’t do anything to change the dynamics of it? They are genuinely distressed about the dramas repeatedly unfolding in their lives, but if one ever suggests changing some of the causing factors, they instantly become defensive, and are immediately ready to wear self-pity as armor.

Believing we are victims of an unkind destiny is much easier than accepting that we are largely responsible for our own failures through our choices. Life deals undesirable cards at times, but what will ultimately cause us to win or lose is how we choose to play the game.

Let’s imagine that a man is planning to build a home. If he’s unaware of the strong storms that habitually hit the area, he might choose the wrong materials, the wrong design, or might even build in a risky area. When the first storm hits, the home will likely suffer substantial damage. After the storm is over, if he rebuilds with the same type of materials, same design and in the same zone, the house is going to be destroyed or heavily damaged again. Over and over he repeats the same mistakes, and, all along, he complains about the weather and the unfairness of destiny. If a Good Samaritan comes along, and points out the faults in the design - or barely attempts to suggest alternative materials - the man indignantly turns away from the stranger and goes back to work; he replaces the boards with more of the same, and follows the same building plan. All along he curses God and angels for putting him through all the work, and the stranger is also not spared a few colorful words for daring to judge and come forth with suggestions.

In reality, the man never meant to improve the home; rather, he used the adverse conditions to justify his shortcomings. Mostly, he was happy to have a place in the spotlight, wearing a victim’s costume.

The man has two choices: he can accept his stubbornness - and continue living under precarious conditions - or he can make changes and improve his situation; simply being angry or weepy about the disasters he facilitated through his own poor choices only serves him to lose more energy and funds, and does nothing to relieve his misery.

If we keep building the same faulty house and complain about it, maybe we should take a step back and really look at what we have created. If we are not happy with what we see, it is okay to admit to our mistakes and seek a new path to walk. Once we do, our friends will be happy to talk and listen to us, for they will be eager to hear a new story told for the first time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Until Death Do Us Part: A Reflection on Love

In The Lady or the Tiger? Frank Stockton explores the impact of emotions on human decisions, especially when one must choose between passion and true love.

In the story, a barbaric king chooses to leave justice to divine law and orders an arena to be built. From that day on, when one of his subjects is accused of breaking laws or is found guilty of otherwise questionable behavior, the king condemns the poor soul to meet his destiny in the arena. Behind two doors of the arena hide both an aggressive tiger and a beautiful maiden. The prisoner himself chooses which door to unlatch, and his fate is sealed – he will either be killed by the tiger or married to the maiden. Either way, no human decision will have any weight on the outcome; if killed by the tiger the subject is believed to have been guilty and promptly punished, while if he makes it out alive, he immediately receives a reward for his innocence by marrying a beautiful woman.

It so happens that the king’s only daughter, a young woman just as intense as her father, falls in love with a handsome young fellow who is, unfortunately, not a noble man. When word of the forbidden affair gets to the king, he immediately orders the young man to be imprisoned and condemns him to be judged in the arena.

As the day of the final judgment approaches, a ferocious tiger and the most beautiful maiden in the kingdom are chosen, and both are hidden behind the doors. When everything is ready, the young man is led into the arena, where he bows in front of the king and his daughter before courageously taking his place in front of the two doors. Before pulling one of the levers, he meets his lover’s apprehensive gaze and waits for a sign. Now, the king’s daughter knows exactly which door hides the tiger and which door hides the maiden, but she’s torn in her decision – if she signals to the door hiding the tiger, her lover will die, while if she signals toward the door hiding the maiden he will be saved but he will be forced to marry the young girl whom she is already jealous of.

Finally she makes her choice, and subtly lifts her right arm only for her lover to see. Without a doubt, the young man approaches the right door and opens it. At this point the story ends, leaving the reader wondering whether the unfortunate young fellow will live or die. This quite ambiguous ending is intentional, and it triggers a reflection upon the type of emotions which rule our decisions. Which door do you think the young man opens, and why?

When my son and I read the story together, we had opposite ideas – I thought the princess indicated the door with the maiden, while my son believed she signaled the door with the tiger. When I asked him why, his answer was simple – the princess was jealous and she preferred to see her young lover dead rather than happy in the arms of another woman. When I explained the story to other people I know and posed the question to them, they answered the same way my son did.

Indeed, passion and jealousy are powerful forces, able to cloud our better judgment. Quite often, we subconsciously wish to control the people we claim to love, and the mere thought of our loved ones happy with someone else triggers feelings of self-doubt we are unprepared to deal with.

True love is not threatened by competition, and it shouldn’t fill us with a need to “own” people, but rather with a feeling of joy at the thought of seeing our loved ones happy, with or without us, similarly to the way we feel toward our children. We don’t have to physically be with someone to love them, as being in love shouldn’t be equal to being in need. Too often we look toward our outside world to find what we should seek within to fill the void, and unfortunately, many of those relationships meet an unfortunate ending.

I suppose the fate of the young man will forever remain in the eye of the beholder, and that each person will choose the ending most appropriate to their way of seeing love, but for myself I really hope the princess made the right decision and allowed her lover live.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Prayer for The Saints

“Dreams are like the paint of a great artist. Your dreams are your paints, the world is your canvas. Believing is the brush that converts your dreams into a masterpiece of reality.” ~ Author unknown

Last night, the New Orleans Saints brought home the smashing victory they deserved, and they taught my kids a valuable lesson.

Let me express first that I am not usually a big football fan, but since I consider New Orleans my true home from the heart, I would support anything that comes out of it, even if that means watching a long game I hardly understand the rules of.

Aside from me and my husband – he’s not really a fan of the Saints, but doesn’t dislike them either – my boys were pulling for the Colts. When in the first quarter the Saints were losing by ten points, my oldest son came up to me in the kitchen and said: “I told you that your boys were going to lose, mom” to which I firmly and proudly replied: “ The Saints will win, even if it’s not going to happen until after half time.” My son, not wanting to back down, and giving in to the arrogance of youth, made a huge mistake. “You really think so? I will bet my next week’s allowance that the Colts are going to win.” His brother, not wanting to be left far behind joined in, “I bet my allowance too. The Saints will lose.”

So, I agreed to accept their bets, and I decided to add a little energy to the whole thing; hey, after all, I have spent my whole life praying to the real New Orleans saints, right? Asking for a little favor could not possibly be crossing the line too much. I picked up a red candle, anointed it with success oil, clear the path oil, honey and bay leaves, and then lit it up visualizing the Saints holding the trophy. Then, satisfied that my wish had made it up to the ether and certain of the outcome, I left the game and went upstairs to watch a movie with my daughter, not giving the game another thought.

About ten minutes before the end of the game, my youngest son came upstairs and asked if we could call off the bets because he and his brother were feeling a little guilty siding with a team from up north. Ha! Good try! I refused to dissolve the bets and he walked back downstairs, a little disappointed.

As history had it, the Saints won, and they didn’t just win, they stomped on the Colts! I went downstairs carrying my laptop while Louis Armstrong sang “When the Saints Go Marching in” on Youtube. The moment I got to the bottom of the stairs, six eyes were staring me down – “You cheated, mom!” said the first one, “I never really wanted the Colts to win,” said the other, “I just did it for the money.”

Now, that was really something to talk about. Although in the beginning they were all talking about wanting the Saints to win, they allowed themselves to be swayed by the opinions of others over the odds of each team. Since the Colts were favored by many, they assumed it was not possible for the Saints to win. “You know nothing about football, mom” said my oldest son, “I didn’t think you could predict right when so many others said the Saints would lose.”

And indeed, that taught them a valuable lesson. Rather than sticking by what they believed, they followed what others were saying, and they lost track of what they wanted. In my heart, I had no doubt the Saints would win, especially after I set my wish and let it get out into the Universe. As Voltaire once said: “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” I hope that from now on, my kids will learn to think with their own minds and put a little more faith in the power of prayer.

Behind the Scenes of Karma and Acceptance

Among the things that are hardest for some people to do, accepting help or blessings probably ranks toward the top of the list.

In many cases, the awkward feeling we experience when presented with a gift goes back to how we feel about ourselves. We are conditioned, since early childhood, to associate rewards with “good behavior”. In our minds, in order to reap fruits, we must know we deserve them, and many times we fall short of our own expectations.

We’ve all seen people who seem to have all the luck, while some others appear to walk from one disaster to the next. Many describe this as Karma. We experience good Karma when we feel in our hearts that we have done the right thing and have lived according to our system of beliefs. When we feel we are “good”, good things come to us. We project good thoughts out because we feel at peace and happy, and those feelings allow us to accept whatever blessings are on our path. Similarly, bad Karma works on the same principles. If we have done something we feel bad about, or have indulged behaviors that are condemned by our system of beliefs, then we feel we must be punished, rather than rewarded. We put a lock on the door of blessings, and open that of misery instead.

Traditionally, karma is believed to be something we carry along through lifetimes until we have experienced what we have caused in the past. One wise man whose name now I can’t recall, once said that if you wish to discover who you were in your past life, or who you will be in the next one, you should look at the life you are currently living. Looking at the big picture, it’s not hard to see how that process would work – our body dies, but our soul remains and continues to record experiences through different incarnations until we “get” all the lessons we are supposed to assimilate. Interestingly, in the field of child psychology, children are observed during play sessions, while they “act out’ their blocks. The human mind needs to rehearse events it doesn’t have a clear picture of, and repeats their pattern until the cycle is broken by an outside catalyst. When our inner blocks trigger an emotional charge to external events, we subconsciously set out to “replay” the original block.

Our subconscious mind – connected to the mind of all creation – has two roles; the first is to store information catalogued according to the emotional charge attached to it; the second is to pick up “thoughts” and requests filtered through the rational mind, and manifest them into our daily reality. Learning how to accept involves learning how to get rid of buried guilt and feelings of low self-worth. Each of us deserves to be happy, regardless of what we might feel bad about – consciously or subconsciously.

So, rather than “you shouldn’t have”, our response to someone offering a gift should simply be “Thank you”. After all, if that person, or Universe itself, decides to bless you with something, you are, obviously, worthy of it.

In the Christian belief, Jesus told sick people they were forgiven for their sins, before he told them they could get up and walk, or go back home and find their child healed. Once they felt their sins, and the guilt associated with them, were lifted, they were ready to accept the blessings.

A psychologist in Hawaii, convinced that perception affects our personal reality, decided to try a test. He became acquainted with a group of violent inmates, and every day he took ten to fifteen minutes to sit still and repeat a simple mantra: “I love and I forgive”. When he repeated those simple words, over and over, he did not choose to direct those words to a specific person, but only to attract a positive emotional charge within himself. In less than a month, as his perception of them had shifted, the behavior of the inmates had greatly improved.

Ultimately, we can change our reality. All we need to do is believe it, forgive ourselves for what we can’t change, and know that we are good enough to receive the blessings already on their way.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Seed in the Wind

“I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.” –Matthew 17:20

As we move through hard times, it is quite challenging to remain true to one’s faith and to keep a positive outlook. Many proudly state their beliefs of a Higher Power taking care of things, but in reality few have the type of faith that will keep their heads above the waters of anxiety. True faith is not in hoping that we will be okay, but in believing it with every cell of our being while letting go of the illusion of control we cling to, regardless of the resistance we meet in our daily lives.

After the Tsunami in Indonesia, I remember watching an interview to a girl who had been picked up and swept away by the tidal wave from her hotel room. She explained that at first she had panicked and had tried to grasp anything she could; once she realized there was nothing she could do to win against the amazing power of the water, she had let herself go without fighting, ready to accept whatever was to come, knowing that she was going to be alright. Once she stopped fighting, after a few bumps along the path, the wave carried her safely off shore until she could swim back, away from the sweeping currents. Letting go, and allowing destiny to unfold without fighting, had saved her life.

As the Tsunami in Indonesia, the economical wave we have been experiencing the past few months has swept many families away from their platform of security, and has left most in a paralyzing grip of fear for their future and for the wellbeing of their loved ones. With unemployment funds drying up, and few jobs on the horizon, even the strongest believers are faltering in their faith, and are desperately clinging to whatever they can find to remain afloat. Many more have turned to prayer to drown the distress, but although their lips utter words of salvation, their minds paint pictures of hell the moment they say Amen. Prayer and fear are ill-fated roommates, and unless a deep faith in the outcome evicts the doubts, prayers are but a stream of pretty words.

Regardless of the gloom of our financial night, we must know the sun will rise again. As Jesus himself said, if earthly parents have the power to fulfill the wishes of their children, how can we possibly doubt God’s power in fulfilling the wishes of His children? No petition is hopeless if it is accompanied by absolute faith. Doubt is a human weakness which must be overcome if we can ever hope to rise above our limitations.

As the mustard seed, we know we are too small and powerless to fight the winds of destiny, but we are big enough to hang on tight to our faith and “know” that we will be safely deposited wherever we need to go.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Running Out of Time

This morning I woke up thinking about death. Not in a morbid way, mind you; more along the lines of how death connects to life itself.

At first impression, the two seem quite opposite from one another, but when one looks closely, they are a mirrored image of each other. Think of the number 8, or better, the sign of infinity; one could fold the symbol in half, and see that the two halves match perfectly. Spiritually speaking, the symbol of infinity is used to represent the immortality of the soul, and its ability to shift between dimensions through the portals of birth and death. During life on earth, our soul absorbs everything it is exposed to, and stores the information which will be decoded after the soul has crossed through the death canal. Once able to download the information stored, it is able to analyze it, and assess what lessons have been learnt in full, as opposed to those that still need a little more practice.

Assuming that each “state of the soul” works in symbiosis with the other, it is safe to guess that awareness of one is essential in gaining full consciousness of the other. When we become aware of death consistently being a few fatal steps away from us, we can appreciate every moment we have, and make the most of every experience.

Imagine, this morning, that this is the last day of your life. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to waste it being angry? Being worried? Holding a grudge? Being high on any mind-numbing substance? Or are you going to truly live today, to breathe fully and forget all which weighs your soul down?

There is always time to hate and push away, but never enough to forgive and embrace. We get so uptight about unnecessary baggage, that we forget the greater meaning of this wonderful gift of life. Some numb themselves with unnecessary substances to cope, and rarely realize that our purpose is not one of sleeping life away but live it to the fullest. We came to live this earthly experience for a reason; if there was no need for us to undergo these experiences, we wouldn’t have been born.

Each moment we are allowed to draw a breath is a moment we can make a difference; it’s a moment we can take a stand for the greater good; it’s a moment we should live fully as if it was our very last.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Delightful Captivity

The past few days I’ve been in captivity. Being the hybrid product of a Mediterranean upbringing and southern life, I can’t drive on snow or ice; even if the main roads are by now fairly passable, my subdivision is still frozen stiff, and the kids and I are stuck at home until the big thaw.

When I first looked at the weather forecast a couple of days ago, the outlook was a dark shade of gray graduating to pitch black – temperatures rising barely above freezing during the day, and down in the teens at night were going to ensure snow on the ground for a while. For once in my life I thought that hibernation sounded mighty good.

Today is day five of my captivity in the prison I share with a few other inmates – my kids and my pets – and I can only say one thing about it all…I’ve had a blast! When I thought about it last night, I feared that cabin fever had fatally led to sheer madness, but when I reflected a little more, I understood the reason why I felt so elated.

Although I can hardly get anything done, and I spend the days either playing Candyland or reading, I can’t be expected to go anywhere, and my load of social demands has been dramatically cut in half. When we ran out of juice yesterday morning, my sons’ typical mantra would have been “Mom, are you going to the store today?” Knowing that I can’t drive anywhere, nobody even asked the question and they happily settled for water to drink. Same with driving kids around all over town; I’m sure that all mothers of teenagers can relate – we spend a great portion of our days running from place to place, from one activity to the next, until the car can almost drive itself if only given a hint of where we are going. But not the past few days…everyone was content just with sitting at home and playing in the snow. What a foreign feeling it has been to face four whole days with no schedule! And what a pleasant one, I might add.

Just the other day I was reading a discussion a few people on a different site were having about freedom. When we speak of freedom, we often focus on the restrictions experienced by individuals and countries alike. We criticize communist countries for the lack of freedom their citizens have to endure; we condemn the oppression some individuals have experienced in the past, and we constantly hear about American freedom versus the sense of freedom which exists in other societies. We can speak our minds, and we can choose our beliefs; we are free to go to school and we are encouraged to protect our civil liberties, but in the greater scheme of things, are we really free?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the following are two definitions of freedom: a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action. b : the quality or state of being exempt or released from something onerous.

Certainly, we have the choice of being free at all times, but if one looks closely at the tenets of our western societies, we will realize we are not free at all. We might not have a sword or a gun pointed at us, but more times than none we run around in circles to meet all the demands of our daily lives. And if, Heaven forbid, something can’t fit into the tight space between one demand and the next one, we feel that we have let others and ourselves down. We run and run toward no specific destination, glad to have made it a day and already fretting about the demands of the days ahead. In itself, that’s not freedom.

The solitude and forced captivity of the past few days have taught me something important – we can only fit so much into one day, and what doesn’t get done before nightfall will still be there waiting for us tomorrow. And if for one day we need to let someone down for not meeting THEIR expectation, then oh well…at least we got to play Candyland.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Bright Red Berries

“Expect your every need to be met. Expect the answer to every problem and expect abundance on every level.” ~ Eileen Caddy

The past few days have been unusual ones for Raleigh NC – an uncharacteristic snow storm for the area, coupled with extremely low temperatures, has turned this southern city into a winter wonderland.

When I went out for a walk with my daughter, yesterday, I thought the scenery was quite striking – the Carolina blue sky, crowned by a glorious sun, intensified the pristine beauty of the soft blanket wrapped tight over homes and yards.

On my way back home I saw one of my neighbors come out holding a bowl of birdseed; she was dressed in black pants and a soft green sweater, the color of which stood out against the ethereal white of the snow like an emerald laid over a rich cloth in the window of a jewelry store. I thought it was very sweet of her to think of the birds, since they were probably struggling to find a meal under the layer of snow and ice, and I reminded myself about some leftovers in the fridge I could bring back for some of the wild animals living in the woods behind my house.

I got home and stood in front of my kitchen sink to fill the teakettle with water, and my attention was stolen by something I rarely notice outside the window - a Robin was sitting on one of the branches of the huge bush beside my deck, happily feasting on some of the berries. Nothing unusual about that, but what really caught my attention was the bright color of the berries, a sanguine red which stood out against the green of the leaves and the white of the snow – unless a bird was blind, those berries could not be missed.

The episode got the wheels in my head spinning...the berries were in plain sight, and elevated from the ground where they could not be hidden by the fallen snow; they were bright and inviting, grouped in grape-like bunches; it was almost as if they were bearing a sign saying: ‘Free groceries.’ I suddenly remembered that during my walk I had seen several other bushes of the same type, all laden with red berries.

The birds didn’t fret about the storm, nor did they worry about dinner – they only concerned themselves with being, leaving all worries to the wind and knowing on a deeper level that they would be sustained. And they were; in plain red berries.

Universe knows no limitations and no lack of abundance – when something is needed, it is promptly and amply provided without delays. We are the ones who cause our own limitations, and become so absorbed by our dramas that we fail to see the bounty all around us. Birds often sing before dawn even breaks, and just because it is still dark around them, they don’t doubt for a minute that the sun will rise; to the contrary, they sing in gratitude before the first ray of light shows itself in the east.

By focusing on what doesn’t work, we easily overlook whatever has been provided to fill our need, even if it sits right in front of our eyes. As Sarah Ban Breathnach said, “Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend…when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives, but are grateful for the abundance that’s present – love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature and the small pursuits which bring us pleasure – the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience Heaven on earth.”

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Announcer

When one thinks of death, the image that often comes to mind is that of a scary-looking skeleton, enshrouded in a black cloak, branding a scythe. But what if the real “Grim Reaper” is instead attired in gray and white fur?

In ancient Egypt cats were believed to be the guardians of the land of spirits; their job was to ensure that souls who had departed didn’t try to escape and mingle in the world of the living. Furthermore, they had the task to guide the souls to their final resting place; their superior eyesight was essential during the journey across the divide. A few millennia later, this concept is coming back to life; personified, this time around, in the semblances of Oscar, a 5-year-old cat who was adopted as a kitten by the staff in 2005, and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit, at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses. Oscar is not described as a “people’s cat”, and does not cuddle with anybody, but he will snuggle with patients in the final hours before their death. The accuracy of Oscar’s predictions of death is so high, that the staff of the nursing home relies on his “picks” to call the families of the dying patients as soon as he jumps on their beds.

In one of his books, Carlos Castaneda talks of a time when Juan Matus, his spiritual teacher, found himself in front of a dying man. Don Juan announced the man’s imminent departure because of an enlargement and opening of the other man’s solar plexus, the chakra located in the stomach area, which is believed to be the door used by the soul to leave the body. Could Oscar be picking up on the same thing? Animals are known to read energy fields much more proficiently than humans, so it would seem plausible. If he can, maybe he’s simply trying to facilitate the process by offering support, love and warmth to the sick person in transition. In one case, when Oscar was sent out of the room by a family member, he paced behind the closed door, meowing in displeasure. Regardless of the qualification of his gift, Oscar prevents sick patients from dying alone. Just this fact is enough to make him a valuable part of the staff.

Recently, Oscar’s unbelievable gift was profiled in a book written by David Dosa, a 37-year-old geriatrician and professor at Brown University in Providence, RI. The book is entitled “Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat”, and will be released this week. Dr. Dosa based his observation on five years worth of correct calls, and the response of many grateful families who could not be with their loved ones at the time of their departures.

Somehow, this story just makes me smile. Although I hope it will be many years before my trip on earth is over, the thought of a purring angel of death with whiskers and soft fur makes crossing through the veil sound like a very peaceful moment indeed.