Friday, April 30, 2010

Crossroads (repost)

“At the Crossroads of Life did he stand, upon the very spot where North met South, where East became West...But there was confusion within his heart as to the direction he should travel.” ~Author Unknown

Elegba is one of the religious figures I hold dearest to my heart. Otherwise known as St. Michael in other systems of belief, he is revered as the keeper of doors and crossroads. In the colorful pantheon of the Orishas (God’s aides in the Yoruba tradition), Elegba is depicted as a jolly old man bearing a cane and a straw hat, willing to show the wandering traveler the blessings at the end of each path in exchange for a few coins, a cigar or a sip of hard liquor.

Crossroads always resonate powerfully with me, probably because as humans we are ever confused as to what path is best to take on our journeys. We are, for the most part, blind to all that exists at the end of each roadway, and are often equally fearful and excited to discover what’s on the other side.

As we face the unknown – more so if the obvious appears ominous – we wish and fear tomorrow with the same fiery passion. We are anxious to let go of fear, and we eagerly anticipate our meeting with that which we dread as it puts us one step ahead toward freedom; yet, tomorrow is but a question mark and a part of us wishes we could postpone whatever it will bring forever.

Safely traversing a crossroad requires that we let go of our fears and hang on to our faith. The future is indeed a blank canvas, but as such it can be colored in the vibrant hues of hope. Although we are nudged by our human nature to expect the worst, when we stand in front of a major crossroad faith must take our hand and lead us to the other side. Else, we remain paralyzed and unable to move forward, frozen in place by fear.

At each crossroad, only one path is the right one for us at that specific moment – if we are willing to listen, our heart knows which way to go. Once we are ready to let go of our illusion of control, and are willing to allow destiny to unfold as it must, acceptance becomes our island of peace in the storm.

The next time you approach a crossroad, silently acknowledge Elegba being there and if you so feel inclined, leave him a coin and ask him to guide you safely across. The rest will be up to God.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Boats in the Storm

“Calmness is the cradle of power.” ~ Josiah Gilbert Holland

Since I was very young, my mother taught me to associate different mental states with visual symbols to understand their essence more closely.

Water, for one, is connected to emotions simply because of its fluidity and duality – a little gentle water is nurturing, empowering and cooling toward other overwhelming states such as anger and jealousy, which are hot and unsettling in nature; too much water, or too intense a flow of it, can instead be dangerous and overpowering.

I couldn’t help thinking about the association of emotions with water last night, as I gave my daughter a bath - we had bought new boats at the store in the afternoon, and she was eager to see them float.

I filled the tub with water, put the boats out to sea, and watched them float peacefully for a few moments while Morgan was busy getting Hello Kitty’s pajamas on. After getting Hello Kitty ready for bed, she walked into the bathroom and saw the boats – Hurricane Morgan was coming in at category five. She peeled her clothes off in a New York minute and jumped in the tub causing a mini tidal wave. The water splashed around, the boats filled up, and went down faster than rocks.

My daughter looked at me and pouted, complaining that the boats “didn’t work.” I couldn’t help smiling, though I quickly assessed that her serious face required, at that moment, a factual explanation.

As long as everything was calm, the boats floated beatifically and all was well, but as soon as an external upset came upon, the little vessels quickly took in all the water they could contain and, weighed by their fill, they sank.

If we imagine the tub of water being our life, and the little boats being our mind, we can see how easy it is to fill up with too many emotions and go down with the weight. Whether the emotions we open up to are positive or negative, we must maintain a neutral place within ourselves where the waters remain constantly calm enough to safely dock our boats.

Once we have a safe place to shelter in, emotions can be empowering, as long as one is willing to sit back and filter out sensations that are not beneficial. Emotions allow us to learn about ourselves – they show us our weaknesses and our strengths, and they play an important part in our inner growth.

And to avoid sinking, we can simply move the boats out until the water has settled – no storm is going to last forever.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Forgive Me, For I Have Sinned...

"It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution." ~ Oscar Wilde

Growing up Catholic, confession was one of the dreaded tasks I had no way out of and never looked forward to, but unfortunately it was one of the necessary evils one had to undergo at least once a month. According to Don Battaglini, confession was as essential before receiving communion as scrubbing behind one’s ears is before going to the doctor, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

For many years I didn’t really understand the meaning of confession. What could anyone – a kid, especially – have done that they couldn’t express directly to God? There were times I couldn’t even think of anything worth the three Hail Marys and the three Lord’s Prayers the good priest habitually sentenced us with, after we spilled our dirty little secrets of not listening to our parents and stealing chalk from the teacher to play hop-scotch after school. Confession really seemed a waste of time back then.

Then I grew up, and for the most part I walked away from the religion to explore other paths. No other system of belief I became acquainted with included anything similar to confession, but I was fairly impressed by something I read while exploring the customs of one Native American tribe.

In the case mentioned in the story, a woman had unintentionally killed someone and had gotten away with her crime. When she confided her woes to an old shaman and told him of the guilt she felt, the shaman suggested she should spend thirty days alone inside a cave, eating unsalted foods and following other practices to purify her body and mind. This way, the shaman explained, she would avoid future repercussions of her act.

At the time the story made little sense to me, but as years went by – and as I had the opportunity to witness other pertinent situations – I understood the wisdom behind the old shaman’s suggestion: A crime with no confession and punishment takes root in the deeper part of ourselves, and triggers self-sabotage and repetitive patterns later on.

Yesterday, I accidentally stumbled into an online discussion which confirmed this concept once again. A young woman explained she had a terrible time the week before, because of something that weighed on her soul. Initially, she was unable to open up to anybody about it, and gloom wrapped around her like a blanket pulled too tight, making her feel overwhelmed and alone. Then, she finally decided to open up to her family and friends, told them what was bothering her, and was pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of love and understanding she received. Suddenly the sun broke through the clouds that had darkened her world, and everything was well again. Once she saw that others were able to forgive her, she also came to forgive herself.

We often keep harmful thoughts guarded inside of us, afraid they will bring us shame, or leave us vulnerable in a big, unforgiving world, but in reality, the world is usually ready to forgive us before we are able to forgive ourselves. The moment we open up and allow ourselves to see that external judges are not nearly as hard as our own inner one, and the sun still rises and sets after we have let the cat out of the bag, the process of healing begins.

Guarding a secret requires tremendous emotional energy, and leaves us feeling incomplete and unable to bring conflicts to a resolution. Once the "confession" has taken place, payment of dues is the next step toward healing. It is not uncommon to discover that others have been down the same path and experienced similar feelings; suddenly we are no longer alone against an unforgiving world.

Of course, "confession" of one’s perceived transgressions is not an exclusive Catholic benefit. One can open up to a friend, to a co-worker, or even to someone they have just met, and unload the weight before thinking of ways to make amends. They won’t qualify to receive communion, but their soul will, in due time, soar to greater heights.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What Tomorrow Might Bring

“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, it empties today of its strength.” – C. Ten Boom

Robert J. Burdette, an early 20th century American humorist and clergyman, once said that it isn't the experience of today that drives men mad, but the remorse for something that happened yesterday, and the dread of what tomorrow might bring.

Although the past clings to life in our minds, it is but a ghost of times gone by. It is easy to identify with because of the emotional triggers it evokes through the aid of our five senses. Past experiences can be triggered into present feelings by a smell, a sound, or by the mere sight of an object connected to a specific moment; all it takes is a song, or a token, to blow life back into the memory.

There are different reasons why some choose the past over the present. The first, most obvious explanation revolves around the fact that our past may be more comfortable than our present, and may be seen as a refuge of sorts. The second reason, which runs a little deeper into the pool of feelings, denotes the need of reliving a particular moment to feed an inner need. It is not uncommon to internally replay a situation which undermines our self-security to justify our feelings of low self-worth.

Similarly, some are obsessed with the future, and live their lives in a forward mode. Everything they do today is done to prepare for tomorrow; everything they can achieve tomorrow is better in their minds than anything they have today; who they will become some day down the road is more important than the person they are now. In reality, the future is little more than an illusion; it is a conjecture of the mind produced to avoid facing the reality of today.

We may never see the light of tomorrow, and there is no reason of being unduly worried about something that may never come to pass. Driving ourselves mad with worry in advance will not discount the pain we will feel if and when our worries will materialize. We can be proactive toward minimizing the impact of an upcoming disaster, but we can’t consume our entire supply of energy with something which has yet to solidify.

What prompts our thoughts toward fearful images is often nothing more than a projection of our inner feelings of guilt or inadequacy. If we feel insecure about ourselves, or unsatisfied with about our own conduct, we may feel sure that our spouse will cheat when the thought of doing so never crossed that person’s mind. In reality, we are only projecting our own inability of seeing we are worthy to be loved. Generally speaking, we see the future through the colors of our past experiences and internal triggers.

Ultimately, the future – if we ever get to it – remains a mystery, and nobody can accurately predict how it will unfold. Worrying about future dreads will only bring that which we fear one step closer for us to embrace.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Tap on the Shoulder

“The bad things in life open your eyes to the good things you weren’t paying attention to before” ~ Author unknown

Yesterday was an average day – or at least that’s how it appeared at first. Nothing incredibly important or transcendental happened, one way or the other; no tragedies nor mind-blowing fortunes knocked on my door.

However, on second thought, yesterday was a wonderful day, although I wasn’t aware of just how blessed until about six in the evening, when I sat on my porch sipping a glass of iced tea and watched my daughter play in the yard.

Out in the distance I heard a siren; then two; finally one more – something serious had happened not too far from my house. I immediately said a small prayer for whoever was involved in the accident, and felt profoundly grateful that my whole family was home and I didn’t have to wonder about their safety.

Right then I realized that many unpleasant things happening around us are an opportunity to stop the madness and focus a moment of our day on gratitude and compassion. We are fast in prayer if something goes wrong in our lives - or if we are in need - but how often do we take a moment to just acknowledge what we have, and be grateful for the things and people we take for granted?

Gratitude and compassion walk hand in hand, and both are great reminders that we should appreciate our lives for what they are, and enjoy what we have.

Divine reminders come in different packages – the sound of distant emergency vehicles, a homeless person seeking a little change and a ray of hope, a lonely person craving a smile or a kind word – through each of them, God taps on our shoulder. We are always in such a rush that we easily overlook the incredible fortunes pouring down on us throughout each day; once we slow down and take notice, we realize the staggering amount of reasons we have to be grateful.

We spend countless hours of our lives telling others they should pay attention -- sometimes it would be good to talk in front of a mirror.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Little Girl, a Homeless Man, and a Slice of Cheese Pizza

It was just a few years ago that I finally realized my children were going to be my greatest teachers in this life. Though I’ve had many other unexpected teachers, nobody has taught me the same lessons my pint-sized guides have.

Some of the lessons have been direct, while others have been subtle; they have made me roll down the road of pure anger at times, only to lift me off the path with a candid smile or a flower picked at just the right time. They have taught me patience, resilience, true love and self-respect, and most of all they have taught me to live in the moment.

Yesterday, unbeknownst to me, it was time for yet another lesson. My five-year-old daughter and I left the house to run errands right before lunch time; since we had spent the greater part of the morning just lazing around and playing, we were suddenly in a time crunch, so we dressed and left without eating first.

After two errands we were famished, so we stopped at a pizza restaurant to fit a couple of slices into our choked schedule. Being such a beautiful day, we took our trays outside and sat at one of the cast iron tables. The scenery was lovely – a sunny day, a happy little girl eagerly sinking her baby teeth in a warm delight of sauce and cheese over a tasty crust, and a soft breeze only softly ruffling the tender new leaves on the trees nearby. Idyllic.

Then, along came a homeless man. Clad in colorful overalls and accessorized with rain boots and a fisherman’s hat minus the hook, he slowly walked down the sidewalk toward us. He carried two plastic bags filled with his humble belongings, and he stopped occasionally to look up toward the sky, as if in a private conversation with his maker. Only about five or six feet away from us by now, he stopped by a trash can and rummaged through discarded bags. My daughter had her eyes fixed on his hands, and I could imagine little wheels spinning at high speed in her head as she tried to figure out what the man was doing.

A moment later he pulled out one of the bags, opened it, took out two discarded pizza crusts and he hungrily bit into them. Morgan watched him bite and chew, and was almost hypnotized by the scene unfolding in front of her; her gaze quickly shifted to me, and then to the man again, until it finally rested on the slice of pizza in front of her.

I watched her without saying a word, and my heart spread an inch wider when I saw her breaking the slice of pizza with her little fingers; she took one half of it, wrapped it as good as she could in one of the napkins she found on the table, and after silently looking at me she stood up and ran to the man to offer him some of her lunch.

The old man appeared stunned by the gesture. This wasn’t a grown woman, or man, dispensing pity, but a small child sharing equally with him. He smiled at her, and gently bowed his head; his lips quivered a little, but he managed to thank her. Morgan smiled back, and without a second thought came back to the table to finish her lunch.

The lesson she taught me could surely have been one of compassion, but I think she taught me something even more important. While many of us constantly worry about not having enough left if we share, her focus was on alleviating the man’s discomfort, knowing she would not go hungry. With no fear in her heart, or self-imposed limitations of abundance, she was free to live in the moment and cast a pebble of joy to create a ripple effect of good energy.

In the end, the man left happy, Morgan was satisfied with herself and ready to bite into a new slice of pizza I bought for her, and if that wasn’t enough, I dug into my pocket to retrieve my car keys and found two dollars I had forgotten were there. Everything was in perfect balance and three people were happier than thirty minutes before. And all that at the price of half a slice of pizza…a bargain indeed.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Kiss of Eden" -- A Music Review

I am certainly not a music expert, but I surely enjoy a good CD when I hear one. Being a writer and an avid reader, I also enjoy a good story, and I particularly love music with profound lyrics that can transport me and allow me a glimpse of the author’s soul.

When I listened to Kiss of Eden by Cherie Lassiter, I should have fastened my seat belt before the trip, because from the first few notes of Shake Me Up I was instantly lifted into a whirlwind of feeling and longing, love and loss, struggle and renewal.

As the songs played, one after the other, I felt like I was watching a film I could not miss a moment of. Cherie Lassiter’s melodious voice led me through a timeless play of mankind’s greatest blessing and curse – a love affair unable to be fulfilled, an outpouring of feeling too constricted by individual blocks to allow itself to flow.

After the initial anxiety and heartache experienced at the dawn of a break-up, change and renewal are sought through different means. As a woman desperately tries to leave her past behind and rebuild a new home for her soul, a new sense of awareness surfaces, and she realizes that she can’t fix the bruised relationship on her own; no matter how much love she gives, her partner is lost and has chosen to lock himself in a self-imposed prison no one but him has the key for. Lack of communication deepens the divide between her and her love, and all she can do is escape into her own comfort zone where she can heal and regroup. And that’s when her soul learns the lesson that was in front of her the whole time – life is a pattern of waves, and it is okay to abandon oneself to the currents, and even crash at times, as long as one can hold on to the ever peaceful energy of the heart.

Kiss of Eden is not a collection of happy songs, but rather it is a journey that will lead the listener to a more empowered place within the self.

Check out Kiss of Eden at cdbaby.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

An Unexpected Treat

It is by chance that we met, by choice that we became friends.” ~ Author unknown

Two years ago, while I was looking for a literary agent, I set up profiles on every site that could help me get in touch with the right representative; along with the benefits of exposure, also came the less appreciated, infamous e-mails from the sites which regularly clog my inbox.

One morning, about a year or so ago, I received yet another notification of a new member signing up. Instead than deleting the message on sight - as I habitually did after I no longer needed to find an agent - that morning I felt compelled to click on the link. When the page opened, I stared at four profiles: two poets, an agent whose niche was young adult fiction, and a novelist, Renee Otis. Renee had opened a profile to either get the attention of an agent or to get suggestions from fellow writers. On her profile was a short synopsis of her novel – slave ghosts, ancient traditions, a psychic nurse, a comatose man who mentally communicated with her; in short, her novel had all the ingredients for a good story – so I wrote to her, and we began exchanging thoughts. In time, she sent me her novel to read and comment on, and I loved it! As fate had it, she soon signed up with one of my friends who had gone on to open a literary agency of her own after working as an agent assistant for a while.

The day before yesterday I had a surprise. I checked my messages and read that Renee had sent me a note on Facebook; she was coming to Raleigh for a week of training and wanted to know if we could meet. Initially, she was supposed to go to Philadelphia, but at the last minute the schedule had changed and she was sent to North Carolina.

I was very excited to meet her in person; over time we had virtually shared hopes, dreams and fears, and now we had the chance to meet face to face. We decided to meet at the hotel she stayed at, and spent a wonderful hour and a half talking over a glass of wine. If someone there was listening to us, they would have thought we had always known each other – we talked about our current projects and about the woes and wows of the publishing world, but our conversation derailed several times to other topics, and it was absolutely amazing to see how two perfect strangers who had never before met in person could be so instantly connected and comfortable with one another.

Since we both had to be up early I didn’t stay long, but we made plans to possibly get together again before she leaves town. As I drove home I thought of how strange life is sometimes, and how wonderful. If I hadn’t clicked on that link the year before, I never would have known Renee exists – though I am sure I would have discovered her later on once her amazing novel makes it to the printer – and if her company hadn’t switched schedules, it would have likely been years before we met, if indeed we were meant to meet at all.

Each day has the potential of revealing surprises that might not always be welcome, but it also reserves the right to treat us with unexpected blessings when we least expect them; the trick, I suppose, is to remain open to all we can receive.

In this case, I was blessed with the opportunity to meet someone extremely talented, with whom I share many of the same interests, whose name I will see listed some day on the New York Times list of best-selling novelists. For now, I am just happy that a link on a message led me to someone so dear.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Rocks in the Bowl

“The secret of happiness is to count your blessings while others are adding up their troubles.” ~ Author unknown

A couple of weeks ago I read an article about a lady who keeps two bowls of river rocks on her fireplace mantel, one filled with white rocks, and one filled with darker rocks. Every time something positive happens in her day, she switches one of the dark rocks with a white one to symbolize the positive occurrence, and each time something bad happens she takes the stone out and puts it back in its original bowl.

Quite intrigued with her idea, I also filled two bowls with rocks – twenty-eight in each container to symbolize a full lunar month – and since I didn’t have any white and dark ones, I used smooth rocks and jagged pebbles. My plan was to see how many of each type I would have in the bowl after one month.

The past two weeks have been uneventful for the most part, without particularly positive or negative events – a limbo of energies – but I still managed to move rocks in response to smaller events that normally would not have caught my attention. Then, as if Universe had finally awakened from slumber and decided it was time to light a little fire under the pot to make the water boil, a string of wonderful things came to pass yesterday, and I happily switched five of the jagged rocks with smooth ones.

Last night, after everyone went to bed, I stood in front of the mantel, and I looked at the two bowls of rocks; after two weeks, even after taking some out, I have successfully switched fifteen rocks! That means that on average, even including the days when nothing particularly good happened or something unpleasant came to pass, I had witnessed at least one positive thing for each day that had passed.

By all means, they weren’t all amazing events, and some of them were in fact small victories, but what seemed important was that I never would have noticed those subtle happy moments if it hadn’t been for the fact that everything else felt ‘stuck’. Just like one doesn’t notice a warm, sunny day during the summer when the warm, sunny days are a dime a dozen, but instantly feels transported to a heavenly place if such a day occurs in the midst of a colder, rainy season, sometimes we need to slow down and feel we are traveling on low gear to notice the smaller blessings.

My mom used to always tell me and my sister that it can’t be Christmas every day, and in a way I am glad it isn’t, for this way I don’t get to bypass the small joys. And the rocks in the bowl are getting smoother with each passing day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Power of a Single Touch

“The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.” ~ Frederick Buechner

Mostly anyone who has been following my daily blog knows, by now, that I am open to experiencing anything which will enhance my view of life, even when it comes to things that are still not scientifically proven.

This past Saturday, I attended a metaphysical fair, and I couldn’t help but notice that the vendor directly across the room from me took aura pictures. Never having seen one, but not totally discounting its possibilities, I decided to wait for my friend Donna to come by so we could have one taken together. My choice wasn’t a random one – Donna and I have been friends for over a decade, and our connection is almost tangible; it is not unusual for one to call the other out of nowhere, if either is experiencing any kind of stress, and it is indeed amazing how deeply we can connect during meditation. We have known of this special connection for years, but the time had come to put it to the test.

When Donna arrived, we sat side by side in front of the camera, and each was asked to lay one hand on a metal plate. We decided to connect the two free hands while the picture was taken. As soon as the photographer was done, Donna mentioned that we should take two pictures, so each of us could have a copy; in the couple of minutes between pictures we never let go of each other’s hand.

The result was stunning. Aside from the colors around our heads, the first photo showed only a very faint white light surrounding our hands, but the second photo was enough to take our breath away – the colors around our heads were the same, but the light around our connected hands had increased exponentially, both in brightness and in size!

Surely, many will find a thousand and one reasons to explain that phenomenon, as the human mind scrambles to find rational funnels to filter information through, but what counts is that no matter what happened and what caused it to be, something DID happen in the few minutes in between the first and the second picture being taken.

Regardless of how some view our energetic connection to others, simple laws of physics show that when two sources of energy come in contact, they connect or repulse each other; what I find amazing about all this, however, is how greatly our own light is increased by the connection. As we connect to others we create a “Christmas tree effect”- our own light might be dim when shining alone, but it gives a lovely glow when connected to other small bulbs.

This concept gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “There is power in numbers”, doesn’t it? Definitely something to think about.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Does Wealth Create Happiness?

“Life in abundance comes only through great love” ~ Elbert Hubbard

Does wealth create happiness? Although a life free of financial worries sounds like the answer to all problems, I personally believe that it is not wealth that makes happiness but happiness that makes wealth.

In my opinion, there is no difference between types of energy, aside from the division between positive and negative. Both of them exist in the Universe, and everything we are, see, hear, feel or touch is made of both. Money and material things are no different – they are a manifestation of energy. When we feel good about ourselves, and feel we deserve to receive good things, the positive energy we send out is a clear signal to the Universe that we are ready and willing to receive the many blessings that are available. When, on the other hand, we feel trapped into a dark tunnel of fear and doubt, we also feel that we have failed ourselves and others, and the signal we send out is that we don’t deserve the blessings that are available to us.

Very often, the prison we are in is an invisible one only we can see. Its walls are built with bricks made of guilt and unresolved issues. In the unfortunate event that we have done anything wrong and have gotten away with it, we fall prey of an even worse internal conflict – while our ego rejoices that we have won one, our inner spirit knows the scale isn’t balanced; justice is not done, the deed has not received adequate punishment, and we subconsciously take it upon ourselves to ensure that we get our just deserved.

Regardless of what we have done, we can’t go back and change things. Our inner spirit knows that, and does not expect any such thing. What we can do, is honor our ability to feel remorse and guilt, because it is a sure sign that our conscience is working, but once we have done so, we must also allow ourselves to let those feelings go and start afresh.

Beating ourselves over something we cannot change will not right the wrongs of the past, but will rather cause us to stumble again in the future. Instead, a complete reshuffling of our life cards needs to take place. First of all, we need to differentiate the things we feel bad about that are really wrong from those that are deemed wrong from a cultural point of view. In the latter case, what we have done may not even be wrong per se, but it is considered so because it goes against the grain of our established societal rules.

And if we can’t forgive ourselves entirely, let’s begin by forgiving others, knowing that, like us, they are held captive within the confines of a similar prison. Forgiving others allows us to heal those parts of ourselves that we can’t directly reach, and gives us a head start on a journey of true love. On the map of abundance, selfless love is the main highway to get to destination; no toll payments are required and the sun shines bright at the end of the horizon.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Spiritual Essence and Lifestyle Fair this Saturday!

The Spiritual Essence and Lifestyle Fair will be held on Saturday, April 17th from 10:00 am until 6:00 pm, at the Martin Building at the State Fair Grounds, 1025 Blue Ridge Rd. in Raleigh.

The Martin building is the first building on the right when you enter gate 9 off Trinity Road. Admission is $5.00, and children under 10 and seniors enter free.

I will be there bright and early to sign books, including pre-publication copies of The Book of Obeah. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Nest and The Dandelion

“I am here for a purpose, and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink into a grain of sand. Henceforth will I apply all my efforts to become the highest mountain of all, and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.” ~ Og Mandino

As bothersome as they might appear to some, dandelions are quite interesting little flowers. Aside from their indisputable medicinal value as a natural diuretic, they are also very fascinating to observe – after living a short life as pretty yellow blooms, they morph into curious-looking, fluffy puffs on green stems, so delicate and light that even the softest spring breeze will carry their spores and deposit their seed on new ground.

At first thought, their purpose seems fairly ordinary: they sprout, live and reproduce, and then they die. But if one looks a little closer, and, like me, is fortunate enough to stumble upon something unusual, the dandelion’s purpose suddenly appears a little more interesting and, if you will allow me, a lot more meaningful.

As I was trimming one of the bushes in front of my porch yesterday, I found an old bird nest from last year. I gently pulled it out of its leafy enclosure and laid it on the porch railing meaning to throw it out when I was finished. As I carried it, I noticed a couple of tiny pieces of egg shell, a few gray and brown feathers, and, of all things, a few dandelion spores carefully pushed between the small twigs as if to provide insulation. I initially thought that maybe they had been carried and deposited inside the nest by the wind, but upon closer inspection I realized they had been part of the original construction project.

As meaningless as that discovery might sound, I thought it was extremely touching. The dandelions whose spores were used by the birds were not aware of this unusual turn of events, and died peacefully after letting their seed go off with the wind; for the baby birds, however, the soft, downy spores could have been what kept them comfortable and warm in an unsuspecting partnership of nature. And of all the pretty flowers that could have fulfilled such an important task, dandelions took home the prize; nature’s most humble - and often unpopular - little flower had a greater purpose to live than it was ever aware of.

Humans are no different. We are born, live and die, and all along we try to live our purpose as we perceive it. Many of us get downhearted at times, as comparison with some of our more fortunate peer leaves us feeling as if we are wasting our lives. We look at the roses among us with a silent sigh, and admire their beauty, and their fragrance, thinking that no matter how hard we try we will never be as good as they are. Nobody will ever stop in awe, staring at our velvety blossoms, and some might even step on us, or ignore we exist.

Nobody knows the true potential and purpose beyond a humble, anonymous life, sometimes not even ourselves; and yet, our existence will make a difference. The thorns of a beautiful rose could not have helped baby birds stay warm and safe, but the unwanted spores of an ordinary dandelion surely ensured a few more voices would join the early morning song.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I Know What You're Thinking...

“We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” ~ Stephen Covey

My whole family often jokes about the fact that Angel, my parents’ cat, has forgotten he was ever a feline. Let me explain. Aside from living a golden life, the poor soul is given specific times when he is allowed to go out and get back home. No matter what time he is told to be back, he steps through the door at the exact time!

Angel was adopted nineteen years ago into a household of adults, with no children present in the home. In no time at all, he was crowned baby of the family – spoiled rotten and overly controlled. My parents and sister assume they know what he thinks and how he feels, and if I ever remind them he is a cat, from their reaction one would assume I have said the unthinkable.

Of course, as I am writing, I realize that I’m the pot calling the kettle back. Just yesterday, my daughter kept picking up our kitten, and was very adamant that he wanted to play with her – “hiding” into the fridge of her play kitchen was his idea of playing hide-and-go-seek, in her opinion. I told her to leave him alone several times, and then lost my patience. I told her that the kitten didn’t like it when someone picked him up constantly, and he wanted some space for himself. Now, was I reading the cat’s mind, or was I merely expressing what I would have liked in his place?

Our assumptions of what anyone aside from ourselves likes or feels are largely based on our individual perception. Our perception is often molded on a blueprint drawn overtime in our minds, and is hardly accurate or truthful. For example, let’s say that someone runs into a person they like a lot. If this individual says anything nice to them, they immediately assume this person likes them back, even if the object of their affection was merely being sociable.

Similarly, if someone is extremely insecure, they see betrayal lurking everywhere regardless of how loyal their partner is, or how much reassurance they are offered. Ultimately, we can’t assume anything. We can guess, but it would be wise to sit back and ask ourselves if our perception is likely to have been affected by our individual filters, which are created by our upbringing and our sense of self. As Peter Cajander, a writer, once said, nothing has any meaning except the one we give to it - everything simply is.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Salt on an Open Wound

“There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” ~ Carl Jung

Very few things are simultaneously as loving and painful as a kneading cat. Believe me, I would know; my cat, Wizard, is a twenty-pound bag of melted sugar and he regularly dispenses his love through the rhythmic action of his lion-sized paws.

Yesterday morning I was in for another dose of loving – Wizard jumped up on my chest while I was laying down on the couch still wearing pajamas and began walking over me in circles, lovingly kneading his way to sleep. Since I was wearing thin satin pajamas, his claws were pushing right through the material as easily as a knife slicing through butter.

He was too cute for me to push him away – his eyes were dreamy and he was purring madly – so I just held my breath whenever I felt pain. Thankfully, the slippery material caused him to slide down a couple of inches, and his paws came to rest where the shirt overlapped the pajama bottoms – instant relief! The double layer of material stopped his claws from reaching the skin. After a few moments of kneading pleasure, Wizard went to sleep. I laid there and rubbed his head, listening to him while he still purred in pure bliss. I was glad I didn’t interrupt his happy dance, as his loving actions provided a priceless portion of food for thought.

All along, Wizard never meant to hurt me – his intent was constantly motivated by love, regardless of the spot he was kneading. What made all the difference was not a change in his kneading pattern, but my own shield of protection provided by an extra layer of material.

When we are hurt by someone’s words or actions, the pain we feel may not necessarily be caused by the words or actions themselves, but by our heightened sensitivity triggered in that particular situation. Salt poured over healthy skin is merely irritating, but it is downright excruciating when sprinkled over an open wound.

Taking notice of what upsets us allows us the opportunity to see the parts of ourselves that are in need of healing. I believe that certain people and situations are placed in our lives to help us grow and heal; when someone or something causes us to feel pain, we gain insight over a “sore spot” within ourselves that needs to be addressed. Once the weak point is identified, steps can be taken to raise a better shield – it is impossible to heal something until we know what it is, the same way that we can’ t fix something until we know what part of it is broken.

People speak and act out of their own sorrows and joys, rarely even knowing how deeply their actions and words will affect us, and by causing strife they show us our strengths and weaknesses. Once the weaknesses are dealt with, those words and actions will simply slide off like a cat on satin pajamas.

Friday, April 9, 2010

As the Wheel Turns

"Fortune sometimes turns around like a mill wheel and he who was yesterday at the top lies today at the bottom” ~ Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra

Although the air was thick with pollen, my mile-a-minute daughter decided, yesterday afternoon, that she was going outside to ride her bicycle. Glass of tea in hand, I went out on the porch and settled on one of the rockers to watch her ride.

Against the tender green of new spring growth, she appeared as an explosion of pink on wheels - her bright pink helmet and shirt were a stark contrast against the sky, and a perfect match to her rose sandals and fuchsia wheel spinners. I sipped the tea, and absent-mindedly allowed myself to take in the full picture of a little girl happy in her world, until my eyes honed in on the Cinderella spinner going up and down as one of the wheels moved. Instantly, the rest of the panorama was cropped, and Cinderella was all I could see. Here was a smiling princess, sitting proudly on top of the wheel for a second, and falling to the bottom the next. Over and over. And yet, each time she fell at the bottom of the wheel, Cinderella could only rise back up.

Nothing in life is constant. We are born, live and die; relationships are formed and dissolved; empires are built and destroyed. Yet, one thing is certain – after touching the bottom, we can only look up. Being at the top is only an illusion of stability, and he who thinks he can’t fall has many lessons to learn. Similarly, he who’s at the bottom should consider that all is interchangeable, and even the worst of luck won’t last forever.

Tragedies do happen in clusters, and have the power to knock us down momentarily, but as the wheel continues to spin, we will soon be sitting on the top again, eager to savor the moments of glory, and enriched by the knowledge that what we survived is part of what pushed us back to the top.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Meeting in the Middle

North Carolina is a very pretty state, especially this time of year. While summers get a bit hot and humid, and winters can be quite cold at times, it is not a state where temperatures are habitually extreme, and spring weather is usually glorious.

This year glorious doesn’t even scratch the surface – with an uncharacteristic spell of unseasonably hot weather, North Carolina has exploded into a flowery paradise. In just a few days, Azaleas have bloomed, trees have sprouted leaves, and timid spring flowers have been on a race to catch up in a breathtaking contest of colors.

There are few times a year, if any, that I enjoy my backyard more than I do in the spring. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding subdivision by a greenway, the yard is a gardener’s nightmare and a naturalist’s dream; a small, natural stream divides the property from the greenway, while a natural bed of rock and a drooping canopy of Wisteria give it a touch of timeless beauty one would be surprised to find within the city limits. Needless to say, the whole area pullulates with activity, as tiny creatures get busy preparing for the summer season right around the corner.

On Sunday morning, I poured a cup of coffee and stepped outside, deeply inhaling the earthy scent of woods just awakened. I looked over at the stream, and saw two Blue Jays flying in from opposite directions, landing in perfect synchrony by the edge of the water. Judging from the different shades of their plumage, they were male and female, and I wondered for a moment if the two had met before or if I was witnessing their first "date". They remained near the water for a few seconds, probably looking around for small insects; then one flew off, and the other followed right behind, quickly disappearing behind the trees.

I sat there sipping my coffee, almost giggly at the thought of the two birds coming together and planning a family, and then, a random thought flashed through my mind…the birds had come from different directions, yet they had managed, by will or sheer fate, to meet in the middle; their connection at the meeting point would soon create new lives.

Creation can only be triggered when polarities meet. Night meets day, and either sunrise or sunset are created; winter meets summer, and spring erupts; cold air meets warm air, and lightning storms are sparked. Most, if not all, of what we experience is created by opposites coming together at a neutral meeting point. In our society, we have come to disdain what we perceive different, yet without differences we would become stagnant, unchallenged and unproductive. When everything flows along without meeting opposites, complacency takes over and growth and creation are stunted.

I doubt the Blue Jays ever thought of all this as they flew toward their life together, but I am sure that I will enjoy their creations for summers to come.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Power of Choice

“Happiness is not a matter of events, it depends upon the tides of the mind.” ~ Alice Meynell

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to take me to ride my bike at a park near my house. One day, I fell and scraped both knees. After helping me get up, and brushing off the dirt of my bloody legs, my grandmother smiled and said: “Well, aren’t you the lucky one?” I looked at her in disbelief…here I was, one scratch away from needing stitches, and the woman was telling me I was lucky! Could she be mentally ill? Even at that young age, I remember wondering if she was going mad. Noticing my confused frown, she explained: “Look at it this way, young lady, you could have fallen and busted your head instead. I think you were pretty lucky.” Although I still had a few doubts about her sanity, those words appealed to my young mind.

She was right after all – no matter how desperate the situation seemed at the moment, it could have been worse. From that day on, my glass was most always half full. Yes, bad stuff continued to happen on occasion, but was it the absolute worst it could be? That newfound attitude saved me a lot of heartache while going through the teen years, and it truly helped me see that events are only as bad as we paint them in our minds.

To this day, every morning, I pray for one thing: to keep my inner balance alive, and see every obstacle as an opportunity. It doesn’t matter what kind of day I’ve had – at the end of it, I always feel it was a day worth living. True power is not in dominating events unfolding around us, but rather is the ability of not allowing those events to affect our core of emotions.

One of the best tricks to balance the scale is to focus our attention on a happy memory. For me, as an example, thinking of the when my younger son caught a big fish on his first fishing trip really does wonders. He was so happy! That image will forever be forged in my mind. If I think of that, and really try to concentrate on the intensity of the feeling and the brightness of his smile, I can immediately feel tension melt away. Once I have a grip on my emotions again, I continue to focus on positive thoughts, and my day magically shifts.

Hanging on to resentment or negative thoughts feeds our illusion of needing to remain angry in order to punctuate the magnitude of the event, but it is really not necessary. Dangling on the brink of a precipice has never helped anyone find solutions.

We feel inclined to change the d├ęcor of our environment if the style no longer suits us, or makes us feel uncomfortable. We remove an object and replace it with one we like more – why not do the same with our thoughts?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dishes in the Cupboard

The past few weeks I have been obsessed with spring cleaning. As I scrubbed, I tried to remember all other times I have been overcome by such madness -- once, I was trying to keep myself busy to avoid hearing the evil voice of nicotine withdrawal, and the other three times I was nesting in preparation of my children’s births.

Well, this time around I am not quitting smoking, nor am I awaiting a sweet bundle of joy…so, inquiring minds want to know, why the urge to clean, scrub and remove old and unused items? I pondered this question for a while. The other times I was facing intense life or lifestyle changes, but why would I go through such intense labor without a good motive right now? Then, the reason for this sudden need of renewal finally dawned on me, and awareness of something much more profound timidly surfaced.

This time, as spring is ready to explode in its myriad of colors, warmer temperatures and sweet-scented flowers, I am awaiting the birth of a different type of child, twins, in fact: This spring and summer, my first two books are going to be released, and while it might not seem like a big deal to many, for me it is the crowning of a lifelong dream. On first impression, it appears that I am nesting once again; however, when I gave this matter a little thought, I wondered if something deeper is at play.

Some time ago, I purchased a new set of dishes to substitute my old ones, but didn’t immediately use them because I hesitated to take the old dishes out of the cupboard. True, the old dishes were not all matching, and some had quite a few imperfections etched on them by the hands of time and usage, but it was on those dishes that I served my daughter the first bite of greens she made faces at, and in those bowls that I piled cookies for my sons to have with milk. I felt as if I was throwing out the memories along with the faded plates, yet I couldn’t fit both sets in the space I have.

I finally placed the old dishes in a bag and arranged the new ones in the cupboard. Once I placed the discarded set in the car to be donated, I looked forward to dinner time when I could set the table with something new. Getting rid of the old dishes was a bit of a struggle, but now that it was done I felt good about it. Truth was that something had to be removed to make place for something new, and until I was willing to let go of things that were no longer satisfactory, I couldn’t fully enjoy what was newly available to me.

Although our conscious minds assume that everything we do in our physical world is only dictated by what we perceive through our five senses, I believe otherwise. In my opinion, many of our daily actions are induced by an inner need which uses the physical realm to express itself. The past couple of years have been bittersweet ones – I have conquered some important milestones, but I have also dealt with a lot of frustration in the process of getting to publication, and I think I have felt the need to cleanse my energy to make room for this eagerly awaited chapter in my life.

On a subconscious level, I think the same thing happens when one is awaiting the birth of a human child – aside from wanting to create a comfortable space for her soon-to-be-born baby, a mother-to-be might also be going through a spell of energy cleansing to prepare for the flow of love she will bestow on her child. Only so much energy can fit into one person, and it only makes sense that we naturally attempt to clear out the old to make room for the new. After all, many spiritual masters teach that energy flows better in a clean space.

After a few days of scrubbing and organizing, renewal has begun, and I am ready to open up to the new blessings waiting at the door.

Monday, April 5, 2010

"In Search of Paradise" -- A Book Review

Since the early days of history, mankind has searched for a pathway to higher realms, sometimes through complicated rituals and unnecessary restrictions, but few individuals have truly been able to undo the earthly chains keeping them bound to what they believe to be their undisputed reality.

I remember people singing along when Belinda Carlisle released the song "Heaven is a Place on Earth," but once the radio was turned off, most went back to the taught notion that Heaven is indeed a hard place to get to, and one must endure unpleasant earthly trials before finally walking through the pearly gates at the end of the life journey.

Within "In Search of Paradise," Dr. Robert E. McGinnis offers a new approach to get on the path to eternal bliss, and he teaches that when it comes to entering heavenly realms, now is as good a time as any – death doesn’t mark the beginning of our glorious passage to the awaited reward, but a conscious decision to change our perception of daily life certainly does.

With a good dose of higher wisdom gently interwoven through the soft layers of personal experience and careful observation, Dr. McGinnis delivers his thought-provoking suggestions in the smooth and delightful style of a storyteller mindful of scientific and universal laws, and he won’t fail to delight anyone who is fortunate enough to stumble upon his work.

"In search of Paradise" is a dishful of food for thought readers won’t get enough of, and it is of no surprise to me that previous editions have sparked new awareness for several decades. I honestly believe that it will continue to enlighten readers for many more decades to come.

A truly inspiring and heartfelt book for anyone willing to accept that Heaven can indeed be a place on earth.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Letting Go (Repost)

“Letting go doesn’t mean giving up, but rather accepting that there are things that cannot be.” ~Anon

There are many things I envision doing in the two hours I normally have for myself, after my children go to bed. Fixing items is definitely not one of them.

After dinner, my daughter decided she was going to measure every piece of furniture in the living room, every knick-knack on tables and cabinets, and even her dad, who was lying oblivious on the couch watching television. She was on a mission. Tape measurer in one hand, and pencil and paper in the other, she set out to work with a tiny frown on her forehead to indicate she was completely absorbed into the task at hand. But alas, after a few measurements, the tape was excessively pulled, and it detached from the case. Of course, we had now a new project at hand – fixing the tape measurer.

One would easily assume that a simple gadget that can be purchased at Wal-Mart for $3.99 would have a simple inner mechanism, but as I discovered, even the under-age workers employed in sweat-shops overseas must have one over me. After my daughter had finally unscrewed the thing, I set out to patiently wind it up, coming to the conclusion that winding a hungry venomous snake would have certainly been easier. Once I had accomplished that infernal task, I realized that, instead than being pulled in, the tape was being spat out! So I looked at it again, and saw that the little wheel in the inside had to be wound in the opposite direction first. I did that. Satisfied with my apparent illusion of sudden geniality, I got ready to put the lid on, when I realized the tape got caught somewhere. I undid it again, and wrapped it around twice, only to discover I had it wrapped in the wrong direction. I carefully held the inside wheel, and proceeded to go in the other direction, when the little tongue holding the tape snapped!

I just stood there with the tape in my hand, dumbstruck for a few seconds. I finally had figured out the ins and outs of the problem at hand, and a few seconds before reaching the finish line, here I was…a winner with no trophy. In that moment I could probably have burned a hole into the blessed thing with my eyes, then I looked up at my husband, who just sat on the couch, staring at me as if I had lost my mind. Instantly, I saw myself through his eyes – a grown woman fighting a roll of tape for well over half an hour – and busted out laughing. A roll of measuring tape? $3.99 The satisfaction of throwing it in the dumpster? Priceless.

Amazingly, even measuring tape can teach a good life lesson. Many times we simply try too hard. Some things just aren’t meant to be, and regardless of how hard we try to get them to work out, they will only waste precious energy we could have invested elsewhere. Effort and determination are winning qualities, and do, often, lead to success, but when resistance is so bad that every move feels like a step deeper into quicksand, it is time to cut the losses and move on to more promising projects, trusting that for each closed door, two windows will open.

The situations we have given our best to, but didn’t work out, probably had a different purpose for being there – they might have taught us a lesson, or they simply were there to remind us that some things are out of our control and must be allowed to go.

Letting go of something that is an obvious closed chapter is not a sign of failure; it is acceptance that a new direction might be a better choice.

I will be offline the next few days, as I am trying to focus on two projects that are due soon. “See” you back on Monday.