Monday, May 31, 2010

A Tiny Cat Named Chevy

This is the story of a tiny cat named Chevy. Chevy’s life began about eight weeks ago under circumstances none of us are aware of, and her arrival triggered a change of heart for Bill, my brother-in-law.

Bill has never been a “cat person” and has voiced his opinions about the little bundles of fur many times. Sadly, three weeks ago, he had to say good-bye to Cocoa, his 17-year-old dog and long-time friend, when Cocoa left this earth following a long and pained illness. The day after Cocoa’s death, Bill went to work – he and my husband own a car-repair shop – and though his heart was heavy, he tried to focus on the tasks at hand.

Early in the morning, one customer brought a car in to get his oil changed and the moment the mechanic got close to the vehicle, he heard a strange sound. He quickly opened the hood and out jumped a tiny ball of fur, straight from the engine onto the chest of poor Bill who had walked over after the mechanic said he heard a sound.

The kitten was scared and hurt – his paw pads had been burned by the hot engine, but he seemed okay otherwise. Bill took him to the office and calmed him down, offered him a little water to drink and called a veterinary hospital nearby. Upon examination, the vet determined that Chevy – several customers that morning chipped to find the right name for her – was indeed okay and that her paws would heal just fine. She was only a few ounces in body weight but her spirit was that of a survivor; she eagerly sucked milk from a bottle for a couple of weeks until she could be weaned to kitten food.

And the sweetest part of the story? Chevy became Bill’s cat. He brought her home with him that day, to the joy of his fiancĂ©e and stepdaughter who had secretly wanted a cat for a while but didn’t voice their wishes in light of his dislike.

Last night I went over their house for a cook-out and got to see for myself the power this tiny being has over a big man hung up on his idea that he didn’t like cats. He took us to his bedroom where the kitten was safely playing away from people and dogs, he picked her up and kissed her, while everyone around was melting a little all over the bedroom floor.

Little Chevy had a rough start, and she had probably crawled inside the car engine to seek warmth during a night when temperatures got to be too cool for her tiny body; we have no information regarding the whereabouts of her mother or her siblings, but we know the trip she took could have been her last. Somehow she hung on, and through her temporary struggle she secured a nice, comfortable life for herself. She was hurt and scared, hungry and void of hope, but in a greater design, her fate was drawn in bright colors.

And, she was able to give a little something back. By entering Bill’s life at that particular time, her presence filled a bit of the void left from Cocoa’s departure. Chevy and Bill helped each other, though neither realized it at the time. For those of us who were fortunate enough to witness this situation unfold, it was the confirmation that miracles still happen even when we feel there is no hope left at all.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Things We Take for Granted

I take things for granted. Most of us do, to some extent. I thought about this last night, as I sat at the kitchen table at ten o’ clock at night, helping my oldest son with a school assignment.

Now, my son Stephen is a very good kid – sweet, compassionate, and always happy – but he has a maddening quality: he is a procrastinator. If he has a project due, it is left for the last hour of the last day before it is due, leading, of course, to a mad dash and panic to get it done on time. I have tried to explain to him many times how he should pace himself, and try to set up a schedule to get things done, all to no avail. He means well, he really does, but he can’t help being a social butterfly and a bouncing ball when it comes to activities.

So, here I was last night, secretly boiling inside and pouting about the fact that another evening of mine was sacrificed to his social life; then a light went off.

I thought about all those kids who are sullen and withdrawn, isolated and unable to connect to others. I thought about the meaning of being a kid, and the demands society has on kids these days. I also thought about parents who have children with illnesses, the ones whose sons and daughters are confined in a hospital room, void of energy and preoccupied with issues they shouldn’t have to worry about at their young age. Those parents would give all their possessions to have a bubbly, smiling child, and their hearts would warm quickly if they could detect a small mischievous twinkle in their own kids’ eyes.

That’s when I realized how fortunate I am. My kids are not perfect – none of us is – but they are good, normal kids, who have been lucky enough to be born in a life void of hardship, in which they can live their childhood years worry-free, thinking about sports, games and girls.

I looked up from the paper and glimpsed at Stephen. He felt that I was staring at him, so he looked back at me a little puzzled. When he saw I was smiling he grinned and his eyes sparkled. I took his hand and told him I love him. We finished the assignment sooner than I thought. Stephen stood up and was ready to bolt out the room to go play with his brother, but before he got to the stairs he turned around and came to give me a hug. “Thank you for helping me, Mom” he breathed in my neck. “I love you”. Then he was gone.

I was no longer pouting. Suddenly, I was really excited about the future he, his brother and sister have ahead. They may not be the poster children for perfection, but they have good values, good thoughts, good hearts, and, most of all, they are happy children. The rest will come with time.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Dollar a Day (repost)

“This is the beginning of a New Day. I am given this day to use as I will. I can waste it or grow in its light and be of service to others. But what I do with this day is important because I have exchanged a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever. I hope I will not regret the price I paid for it.” ~ Author unknown

Let’s imagine that at the beginning of our lives someone gave us a limited amount of money – a dollar bill for each day we are alive - and told us that we can use the sum we are given to buy joy, pain, anger or peace. Our purchase cannot be returned, and whatever we buy with it we have to keep. We know that if our money is invested properly it might earn us a few extra bucks, while if it is spent unwisely, our account will dry up prematurely due to the penalties we have to pay. With that type of awareness, how would you spend your daily dollar?

Research has repeatedly shown that people who live a simple and peaceful life have longer life spans, especially if they sweeten the deal with faith and service to others. Each time we smile to a stranger, indulge in an act of random kindness, or accept the rocks that life throws as an opportunity to learn how to catch and stay in shape, we have used our daily dollar wisely.

If, on the contrary, we invest our energy in a fight against life, and allow anger, greed and fear to absorb our time and minds, we have merely taken our daily dollar and left it outside to be swept away by the wind. No matter how upset we get once we realize our mistake, the dollar is gone. So, should we put the rest of our money down on the same table, and leave it to be swept away as well while we run around madly searching for the first bill? By doing so, all our money will soon be gone and no amount of regret or foot-stomping will bring it back.

The first dollars were taken away by a combination of an unmerciful wind and personal naiveté, but choosing to put the rest of our livelihood out to be dispersed by the same currents is self-destructive and irresponsible at best. Rather than wasting more dollars trying to rectify mistakes of the past, it would be best if we focused on not making the same mistakes again in the future.

Go out today, and use your daily dollar wisely. By the time the setting sun pulls a curtain on this day, you should feel that what you bought is worth the price you paid for it.

Money doesn’t grow on trees…life doesn’t either.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Our Current State of Affairs -- Reality or Illusion?

Our world is going through a hard shift. On that, I believe, everyone is likely to agree. Not only does it seem that our planet is being traumatized by increasingly frequent disasters, but also the people inhabiting it are struggling to just make it to the next day. All one has to do is open any newspaper, or listen to any random newscast – conflicts are on the rise, the economy is at its lowest since the depression of ’29, and tension is growing in many parts of the world. It is not uncommon to hear a collective sense of panic in the voices of the people, and to detect a quickly-spreading sense of doom in the very air that we breathe.

So, what’s happening to our old world? Are the prophets of doom right, and are our days counted? Has evil in our world reached such levels that it is no longer manageable? Or is it possible that we, as individual pieces of the greater puzzle, are making mountains out of mole hills?

Our world is indeed changing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We tend to be extremely defensive when it comes to change, and cling to the ways of the past as the answer to dealing with fears for our future, but in reality everything must continue changing, even us. Our bodies and minds change every year, every day, every single minute we move through life, and as these changes take place, we become fearful; not necessarily because changes can bring upon anything unpleasant, but because change and the passage of time necessary for changes to take place are related to our mortality. Change is not the evil many believe it to be, but rather it is a necessary process of renewal which runs right along the path of evolution of body and spirit.

Clinging to the past is more common than many bother to acknowledge. We perceive old music as more melodious, old movies seem better directed and acted out, old ways of life appear more wholesome and void of hardship. In reality, the past was not any easier than today is. Our grandparents looked at the new generations of the forties and fifties with the same apprehension that our parents exhibited when glimpsing at the ways of their children, us. Now we are doing the same with our children, and unless we come to grips that change is a good thing, our children will do the same with their own.

So, has a world without hardship ever existed? We can fool ourselves by thinking that yesterday was filled with roses and pink unicorns, but if we open our eyes to the cold, hard facts of reality, we’ll see that our history was saturated with injustice and wars, fear and famine, suffering and illness, probably to an even greater extent than we can identify in our present days. Illness itself is not an invention of progress. In fact, people used to get sick and die much more in the past than they do today. With the advent of modern medicine, improved technology and better education, we have been able to conquer milestones once thought impossible to even be considered.

Crime seems rampant, but is it really? I can think back to a time not too long ago in our history when people could murder someone without even being held accountable for their actions. Robberies and crimes of passion or abuse have always existed. Back then, people just didn’t know about anything that happened to others and only were concerned with all that was taking place in their immediate circles. If a tsunami hit Indonesia two hundred years ago, people didn’t know about it in Europe – not because it wasn’t happening, but because the communication between different countries was not in place. So, it seems that all these changes people fear are nothing more than regular happenings just displayed for the eyes of a larger crowd. There are, however, things that are shifting, and it is up to us to prepare for their arrival.

The last two thousand years was the age of religions and patriarchal institutions. Within this time window, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed were born, and initiated an incredible shift of consciousness on our planet with their teachings. Patriarchal structures replaced the fluid thinking of the previous ages, and they served the purpose of teaching the world self-discipline and the importance of using the benefits brought along by the conscious mind. The age is nearing its end, and in the last few decades it has become increasingly apparent that our world is once again preparing to shift toward the heart center and toward feminine energy. In our lifetimes we will witness the fall of patriarchal empires and all they have come to stand for. The economic crash of 2008 is only the first sign of what’s to come.

Our world is not dying, and no world-wide catastrophe is lurking in the shadows, but our realities are changing, and preparing for a shift of consciousness which will affect us as a whole. We could sit here and wonder what exactly will happen, but nobody really has that answer; and really, wasting our energies on forecasting good or bad will not change the impact of what’s coming on our realities. Our children are ready for the shift; the increasingly apparent new “attitude” our youth is expressing is not a symptom of their downfall but a manifestation of the new type of energy necessary to welcome the change from being mind-centered to being heart-centered.

What can we do, as individuals, to prepare for this shift of energies and not be swept away in the process of transition?

First of all, we must learn to let go of what no longer serves us. Fear tactics, guilt, and isolations are the ways of the fathers, and they will no longer work in our new world. We must learn to reconnect to one another and to see the divine into each manifestation around us. Some of this process is already taking place as people are trying to keep their heads above the water during the economic disaster which has befallen our communities. Families are coming together, friends are reconnecting and helping one another, necessities are shared, and in light of greater evils, some of our differences are being overlooked. Many wounds are also coming to the surface and are being healed below the skin of immediate awareness. Racism, superiority of one life form over another, and greed are being exposed through conflicts that have the healing power of uncovering old wounds so that they can be cleansed. Conflict itself is not an evil but a savior, because it is through conflicts that we step out of viscous waters to fight, and we detach from complacency and acceptance of unnecessary pain.

Our world is changing, just has it has for ages unrecorded. Our current times are not evil but they are in need of spring cleaning. Although apparently the scale has shifted its needle toward the illusion of negativity, the only thing that’s nearing its end is the age of the fathers. Balance is at close proximity, and the best way to be a part of it is simply to acknowledge the fact that we are not walking this path alone but we are all holding onto the same rope leading us to the top.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Delicious Expectation

"The pleasure of expecting enjoyment is often greater than that of obtaining it, and the completion of almost every wish is found a disappointment." ~ Samuel Johnson

As we were driving home last night, my son raised his eyes to the lottery billboard and whistled when he saw the staggering jackpot amount. "How much money do you think that is, Mom?" he asked with childlike curiosity. "Too much", I replied. "Yes," Michael interjected, "after winning a sum like that, one is set for life. His children and grandchildren will be, too. "

When he said that, the first image that popped in my head was that of a group of dysfunctional, unhappy individuals, so I shared my thought with my son. He agreed with me, and said that he doesn’t even enjoy stuff that much, unless he has saved up for it.

Our conversation led me to think back about my childhood years, when the mere thought of surprises on the way was enough to fill me with excitement and expectation. I loved Christmas eve as a child; that magical, thrilling time when one’s head filled with expectations and the heart was ripe with hopeful wishes. As excruciating as it was, waiting for the big day was painfully delicious. I still remember looking in awe at the pretty packages under the tree, and fantasizing about the content.

Then Christmas day came. We were happy, the tree was assaulted, the gifts opened, and the house was filled with cheerful thoughts and good wishes; yet, something was also a bit sad – another year had to pass before another Christmas. Though they were usually what we had petitioned for, the joy at seeing the actual gifts paled in comparison to the feeling of absolute wonder from the day before.

We often feel that we should expedite events in our lives, but we sadly forget to notice that the best part of achieving anything is indeed the expectation of receiving the blessing. If we take time to listen within, our energy in those moments is fueled by pure hope; if we could bottle up our excitement, and save it for a rainy day, life would be much simpler and enjoyable.

When looking ahead, the final destination is only one of the blessings of the journey; the rest of it – including expectations – is the part we must truly cherish and be thankful for. Disappointment can be a crash to the ego, but it can also open the door to creativity and motivate one to reach a lot further.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"Breaking Into Soul" -- A Book Review

Book Review: Breaking Into Soul, by Tonya Scott Wyandon

Blossom Sterling is a young girl living in the Deep South. At first glimpse, her life appears ordinary and her story typical of girls her own age, but Blossom is different – since a very young age, she has experienced the gift of sight.

Her higher sensitivity and sense of compassion propel Blossom toward connecting with other young girls who are not as fortunate as she is, and encourage her to open her heart to them in an attempt to make them feel included and loved despite their unique backgrounds. Her closest friend, Tina, the daughter of a single, over-worked, and overwhelmed mother, is often shunned by other children, but Blossom makes it her mission to reach out to her, and to ensure Tina is kept safe and happy. It is in part because of her relationship with Tina that Blossom’s inner growth is expedited.

Tina is not the only outcast Blossom reaches out to – during a visit to her grandparents in Bayou Sara, Blossom meets Soul, a young Native-American girl of approximately her age. Through Soul’s words, Blossom is thrust into a world so far unknown to her, and her perception is greatly enriched by this unlikely connection. Soon, Blossom and Soul find that no matter what their obvious differences are, a deeper part of their beings is connected by a very special gift.

Breaking into Soul is a priceless document of life in the south, and it leads the reader to explore thought-provoking concepts processed through the eyes and mind of a young girl caught in the midst of socio-cultural differences. The references to Native-American traditions are detailed and fascinating, and I feel I have walked away from the story with a greater understanding of a culture I wasn’t too familiar with.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

International Book Award Winner!

I found this out last night, and maybe I shouldn't even say anything, since results won't be announced until next week at Book Expo of America in NYC, but I am so excited I think I will fly away if I don't share...

The Book of Obeah won the International Book Award in the multicultural fiction category!!!

And, if I wasn't already happy enough, I found out Housekeeping for the Soul was a finalist in the nonfiction inspirational category!

I am SO happy right now, I could scream!!! I just had to share...:-)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Weekend Delights

The past weekend has been an interesting and inspiring one to say the least. The magic started on Friday evening, when I went with my son to an art show in Wake Forest where my friend Pam’s paintings are displayed.

It was a lovely evening – we enjoyed browsing around the gallery, and were amazed by some of the talent; after a while, we just sat outside, drinking in the warm air and engaging in a fun conversation. When our friends left, my son and I took a walk on White Street, and were delighted to listen to a band playing outdoors as we were strolling along.

Shortly after, we went back to our car and headed back to Raleigh. As I drove, I could feel my car responding differently, and I made a mental note to bring it in to get checked on Monday; but, when I got into Raleigh – thankfully not too far from home – I began to hear a strange sound, so I turned off the radio and opened the window to see if what we heard was coming from my car or from a different one riding nearby. It was indeed mine, and all it took was for my son to slightly peek his head out before he said: “Uh oh, Mom, you have a flat tire.”

It wasn’t just flat…the poor thing had miserably blown, and the rim was painfully riding over it. I slowed down, and got into my left lane, trying my best to get out of Capital Boulevard before things got worse. I drove a little longer, and pulled into a nearby neighborhood; once I was sure we were away from heavy traffic, I stopped the car and we got out to inspect the damage. There was no way I could continue driving, so I got my cell phone and tried to call home. No signal! I walked little ways down the street, hoping to get a sign of life, and all I got was a big, fat nothing. I had two choices – Michael and I could walk home, since we weren’t too far and it was a pleasant evening, or we could knock on someone’s door, which, being ten-o-clock at night was definitely not my first choice. Right at that moment, I saw something moving, and to my relief, I saw a man coming out of his house to walk the dog. I asked him if I could possibly use his phone, and explained the situation. He handed me the phone, and even offered to change my tire; I deeply appreciated his offer, but gently declined, not wanting to put him out even more than I already had. I got a hold of my husband, and within ten minutes he was there. The tire was too damaged to fix in the dark, so we decided to leave the car there and go back for it the next day.

When I got in the car, my little daughter was waiting in the backseat; she smiled and handed me a little homemade gift she hurriedly prepared before leaving the house to cheer me up. Suddenly, the beauty of it all washed over me unexpectedly. I had a wonderful evening, and because of a small inconvenience I was able to top it off with kindness from a perfect stranger, and awareness that, no matter what, someone is there for me to call upon in a time of need. And all along, even while we were waiting for my husband to arrive, Michael and I enjoyed our time – we pulled down the windows and quietly talked. It wasn’t cold, it wasn’t raining, and we were happy to have a little extra time to chat. Strangely, what could have been an unwelcome situation turned into an inspiring and fun adventure.

If that wasn’t enough, when we got home we received a phone call from an old army buddy my husband met while serving in Italy. He was coming through Raleigh on business, and wondered if he could come by to see us. He arrived Saturday morning, and spent the day at my husband’s shop with him; in the evening, we sat on the deck, grilled steaks, and reminisced about those wonderful days of a summer long ago, when we all met.

What a magical weekend it was, and how unexpected! That’s how life works sometimes…a delicious surprise, one day at a time. And occasionally it might all even start with a tire blow-out.

Side note: I will not be online much this week, as I am trying to help my editor prepare the novel for digital upload, so there won’t be any posts published for a few days. “See” you all when I get back!

Friday, May 14, 2010

A 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 with 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 with 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.

Despite the gloom of our financial night, we must know the sun will rise again. As Jesus 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 needs 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, May 13, 2010

By Invitation Only

“Your own mind is a sacred enclosure into which nothing harmful can enter except by your promotion.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you can imagine your mind being the home of your thoughts, it is easy to see how negativity could be kept at bay. In our physical world, we keep our doors closed and only grant access to those we wish to invite in. By being selective of the people that walk into our homes, we are pro-active in creating a safe environment for ourselves and our families. We would not invite thieves and murderers in, and would only want to surround ourselves with friends we feel comfortable with.

Regardless of who might be hoping to get in, we have ownership of the door, and can choose who will enter. Whether the person is well meaning but inconvenient such as a salesman, or dangerous and unpredictable as an escaped convict, they will not be able to get in if we don’t open the door.

Of course, we also need to be careful we are not too eager to keep the door closed at all times, as occasionally even friends might visit us unexpectedly. Balance and objectivity are of importance, and the criteria used to choose can be very simple – we let in people we love, make us happy, or serve a purpose in our lives, and leave out those whose only object is to annoy, undermine or hurt us.

There is no reason we can’t treat our minds with the same respect we treat our homes. Whether negative thoughts, feedback or energy are generated within our minds, or are the result of external factors at work in our lives, we are not obligated to allow them in and give them license to affect the safety and peace of our inner abode. We can deal with them as we would deal with someone selling carpet cleaner door-to-door: thank you but no thank you. If we indeed let them in, and get trapped in a one-hour-long presentation of a worthless product, we can blame nobody but ourselves.

Is it different when the negative thoughts or patterns originate directly from us? Not necessarily. There are two levels to our mind - a superficial mind, which scans and processes surface clutter, and a deeper mind, which takes in what has filtered through. As thoughts rush through our minds, we must observe them and either accept them or discard them according to their value in our world. It is really a simpler task than one would imagine.

We have the power to choose what we allow in. If we don’t enforce our boundaries we should accept unwanted visitors with a smile, as we are the ones who opened the door and led them inside.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Right to Privacy, or Self-Isolation?

“It means a great deal to those who are oppressed to know that they are not alone. And never let anyone tell you that what you are doing is insignificant” -Bishop Desmond Tutu

While I was growing up, people related to one another differently than they do today. Everybody knew everybody. As annoying as it was that your neighbor knew whom you were going out on a date with before you did, the closeness served a purpose: We all felt like we were part of a big family.

Then I grew up; I moved away, and times changed. In eleven years living in my first house, I probably met six neighbors; in my current house about eight. In fact, rather than meeting them, I should say we have passed one another while walking our pets or children and smiled cordially. No warmth there, aside from a pasted smile after a long day at work and a standard, automated greeting.

People of our generation have become isolated. They meet on predetermined social occasions, and maybe even talk on the phone often, but the camaraderie of having a “Rhoda” busting through our unlocked door is something that’s only preserved on “The Mary Tyler Moore” show.

Regardless of race, religious beliefs, political affiliations and other societal boundaries, we are all human beings and all are on the same boat sharing a journey. Larger cities with a high density of population such as New York or LA are even worse - millions of people live there, but many of them keep a constant shield in front of their hearts, afraid to meet or talk to a stranger.

We hide and isolate ourselves to be safe, to have space, to protect our rights to privacy; yet all that we are doing is creating widespread loneliness. Human beings have an innate need to connect to one another – whenever we go in the opposite direction, honoring fear, doubt and unfounded judgment, we do not do ourselves any favors. If we could take down the shield and show who we truly are – exposing the core of our weaknesses and strengths – we would be surprised at just how many people share our same feelings. Once the connection is made, everyone feels better simply by knowing they are not alone – someone understands what they are going through.

Why can’t we connect the same way with everyone we meet? Do we need to walk up a mountain to know the path is steep? In order to expect others to open up to us and be willing to connect, we have to start with ourselves. We are all unique and important in our own individual ways, yet we are all fruits of the same tree – there is no reason for us to fall so far apart.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Teacher Who Came Dresses as a Monster

“A great teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others.” ~ Author unknown

A few months ago, I read somewhere that the two greatest teachers of compassion the world has ever seen are Hitler and the Dalai Lama. Being a huge fan of the Dalai Lama but personally not too sold on Hitler, this statement struck me as strange – how could anyone compare a holy man whose life purpose is to spread peace and compassion, to a military figure whose intent seemed to be one fed by hatred?

The question hovered around my thoughts the whole day, until that night when one of my children misbehaved, and I had no choice left but punish him by not letting him attend an event he had his heart set on. Now, if you were a fly in my house, you would know that my two boys argue over anything under the sun, and sometimes even about something above it; any chance they have to get the other in trouble they jump on it like a cowboy on a horse. But, this time, one brother had gotten in trouble all on his own, with no trickery necessary, so the natural order of things was upset.

Suddenly, one would have thought that I had given an innocent man a death sentence – not just one kid was mad at me…they all were, including Morgan who normally gets stumped by her big brothers and thrives on seeing them get what they deserve! Never had I seen so much love and compassion among my kids as I saw that night – they talked kindly to one another, and went overboard with small pleasantries that were, until that fateful day, a mother’s wishful thinking.

That’s when the meaning of that statement made it home. Certainly Hitler and the Dalai Lama are very different people, and they affect others in their own unique ways, but the teaching behind their actions is similar in the end – one inspired the world to feel compassionate toward people who had suffered from his heinous acts, while the other inspired his followers to be compassionate because compassion is part of the truth our collective soul must embrace.

We are conditioned to think of a teacher as someone who will lead through knowledge and wisdom alone, but sometimes teachers come masked in strange clothes. And, oddly enough, we tend to learn more, and much more quickly, since our attention is instantly seized from explosive events and actions. It might take us a lifetime to learn to appreciate a sunrise, or a kind smile, but if we find out our days are threatened by illness, that awareness will surface with light speed, as we feel we don’t have any time to lose.

Before going to bed that night, I thought again about the comparison between the two men, and about my children instantly pulling together after one was “too harshly” punished. In my children’s situation, anger and resentment toward the external force that had thrown one of their own into the dungeon, had caused them to choose love over sibling rivalry. I closed my eyes, feeling satisfied; though in their eyes I had momentarily morphed into Hitler, they had embraced the qualities of the Dalai Lama I admire so much. Only for one evening, mind you, but that was good enough for me.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Tree House

"In order to reach your goals, you will have to climb a long way and be frightened. But take it a step at a time"

Those were the words a kind uncle uttered one day, as his young niece expressed her fear of climbing the ladder leading to the tree house he had built. Their home was a two- story Victorian with a steep pitched roof. The tree house was in an old Oak tree, and it was higher than the roof top of the Victorian house. To the little girl who stood at the bottom of the tree, the tree house seemed to float above the clouds, and she was apprehensive about going up. Despite her fears, her uncle gently nudged her to start climbing.

Many years later, as she worked her way through college, and struggled juggling jobs and school work, the girl always remembered that day, and thoughts of the tree house propelled her forward toward achieving greater heights.

Even if the heights we are attempting to reach are not unthinkable ones, it is quite common to be frightened when we contemplate our goals. Just like the tree house, our dreams seem exceedingly distant and it is easy to forget that each step gets us closer to destination.

We may not see the results right away, and that’s usually discouraging. Once a goal is set, faith must carry us the rest of the way. We can’t look down, or else we will fall. We can only go forward, one step at a time, knowing that we WILL get to the tree house if we keep up our efforts.

Growing up, I had a friend who had weight problems. Periodically, she would get motivated to try a new diet, but after following it for a week or two, she would give up. When I asked why she didn’t stick with the regimen, she always replied that she wasn’t losing any weight anyway. In reality, it was not true. Even after a week, one could tell that something was slightly changing, but it would have taken several weeks to see noticeable results. The change was not dramatic enough to keep her committed to her goal.

A few years ago, I ran into her while visiting my parents, and saw that she had lost an amazing amount of weight. When I asked her what had finally worked, she said: "I just decided to stick with the diet, regardless of the immediate lack of reward." Although she could not see tangible results, she had decided to have faith and continue – the pounds began to melt off, and a new woman, smiling and confident, was born.

Fear of failure is probably the greatest deterrent of going far. We are afraid of not making it, so we don’t even try. Once that fear is conquered, and faith takes over, the worst is done.

The little girl of the story had a special place in the heart for the uncle that encouraged her to climb the tree house and she will always know that when she is scared of anything, she can think of that beautiful, sunny day.

I am certain her uncle, who recently passed away, is smiling down at her from the top of the tree house, proud of all she has conquered. In fact, I think he is doing that right now.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Driving the Distance

“Before whining about the distance you drive, think of someone who walks the same distance with their feet.” ~Author unknown

I don’t think many of us ever realize just how fortunate we are. Yesterday, I had a chance to briefly enter the world of someone who has very little, and I realized how much I take for granted.

While talking to this man, I learned that they have a specific amount of money they can use for food every month; with the prices of groceries going up, what used to be enough to feed their family for a month no longer is. As he was talking, I tried to imagine what it must be like – with three kids to feed – to have to stretch out groceries that far. Then I thought about something else.

Just the other day, I went to the grocery store for my weekly run. After pulling into the garage I went inside for a minute, taking my time before I began to unload the car; somehow, bringing groceries in – and putting them away – felt like a chore. As I spoke to this man, that scene flashed in front of my eyes, and I instantly felt guilty. I thought about the times when my kids have complained because leftovers were being served, and also of the days when I complain about having to go to the grocery store.

And what about cleaning house? I would not have to clean it if I lived on the streets. I would not be able to vent about the challenges of parenthood if I hadn't been gifted with children of my own. I would not stay in line at the store to buy Christmas gifts for people I love, if those people weren’t in my life; I would not complain about my job if I didn’t have one, and was looking for employment.

Most of what we normally view as challenges in our lives is connected to that which we would not want to live without. We take our blessings for granted, and even complain about them, but how would we feel if, suddenly, they were gone out of our lives? Definitely something to think about.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wishing for Others (repost)

“I must respect the opinions of others even if I disagree with them.” ~ Herbert Henry Lehman

A few days ago, a friend sent me a note with the following sentence: “I wish for you what you wish for yourself.” I immediately liked it, but it was only after I thought about it for a while that I realized how truly profound those few words are.

Many times, while wishing someone something, or while praying for other people, we tend to customize the wishes we have according to what we believe it is best for them.

In reality, nobody can really know what is right or wrong for someone else. Each person lives a unique life, and is the product of a unique pattern of circumstances. Even if we have seen a similar pattern before in someone else, all it takes is one small difference in the type of personality or in the way the person internalizes information, to dramatically change how certain events will affect this individual’s life compared to others who have walked in those very same shoes before.

When we can accept that each person has a different path to walk, we enable ourselves to love them unconditionally, and to wish them well for their greater good, without making any assumptions. What we believe to be their greater good, might in fact not be good for them at all, and could hinder their growth. Each person has different things to learn, and by being free to follow the course of action they have mapped for themselves, they are able to fail or succeed – either way, they will assimilate what they must.

It is easy to worry about a friend or a loved one if they are walking down a path we perceive as negative, but it would be more helpful to them if we could just focus on sending them unconditional love and support to accompany them on their journey, rather than charting a new route for them which is only fit for us. Some people need a detour before they can reach their destination, and their timing might be different than ours, but in the end not one path is necessarily wrong – just different and specifically customized for the individual’s life experience.

We can control what happens in our own lives, to some extent, but laying claim on the destiny and the choices of others – especially when our flow of love is directly proportional to their decisions – hinders the growth of all.

Live your life and love unconditionally. And when the urge of judging the actions and choices of another surges, it’s important to remember that we are only human - limited sight and arrogance can only cloud our better judgment.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Little Flower That Grew Into a Garden

“Plant the seed of desire in your mind and it forms a nucleus with power to attract to itself everything needed for its fulfillment.” ~ Robert Collier

A couple of years ago, I visited a friend whose thumb is a lot greener than my own. Her yard was amazing, front and back – from herbs to giant sunflowers, gardenias, roses, and even succulent vegetables, her home was surrounded by an explosion of different colors, and was easily distinguished from the much more subdued neighboring houses.

One day, I asked her about one particular pink flower growing on one side of her house, and she told me it was Evening Primrose. When she explained how resilient this plant was, and how easily it spread, my interest was piqued. She offered to give me a few flowers to plant in my own garden, which I put in the ground the moment I got home. It wasn’t but a few days later that my Evening Primrose appeared dead.

Last summer, when I went to prepare the flower beds for planting, I noticed a few plants that I thought were weeds. I pulled them, but I think I missed a few. This spring, I went outside one morning, and saw there were hundreds of the same plants, but this time they weren’t little any more. They had grown to about a foot and a half in height and were full of tight blossoms. A few days ago, I had the surprise of my life. A few of the blossoms had opened overnight, and they were the same flowers I had seen at my friend’s house!

When I went back out this morning, I couldn’t believe my eyes – the hot temperatures of the past few days, coupled with a rich moisture in the air, had worked the rest of the magic, and my house suddenly looked like a cottage in a Thomas Kincaid painting -- a cloud of pink flowers swallowed the tiny pathway from the driveway to the porch entrance, barely leaving a foot-wide of concrete to walk on. It was breathtaking…three little flowers had created a slice of Paradise!

All this time, I thought the flowers were dead; never once did it occur to me that they were working overtime underground to give me the yard I had always wanted. And yet they were; unbeknownst to me, tucked into a soft blanket of soil, the seeds had continued growing, spreading and exponentially multiplying.

And so can be with life – not all we plant sprouts immediately; all good things take time to manifest, but once the wheel is set in motion with intention, changes take place though we might not readily notice them on the surface. While we think everything is blocked and dormant, there is instead a tremendous amount of work taking place that we cannot see.

Life works on its own time schedule, unscathed by our complaints and wants, but once it finally decides to make its entrance it might be a manifestation we won’t soon forget.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Redefining Perfection

"When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target." ~ Geoffrey F. Fisher

Last night, while I was on the phone with my mother-in-law, our conversation led to a discussion on the concept of perfection.

According to the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary the following are two definitions for perfection: 1) the quality or state of being perfect: as a: freedom from fault or defect : b: the quality or state of being saintly; 2) a: an exemplification of supreme excellence b: an unsurpassable degree of accuracy or excellence.

Nice definitions, but if we look at them closely, they are not definitions of perfection per se, but definitions built around individual perceptions of it.

1a- "Freedom from fault or defect – what exactly does that mean? Who is perfect enough to decide what is faulty or defective? Our perception spins from what we have been taught, and it rarely reflects reality; it merely shows what we consider right or wrong in base of what we have learned. Even when we are sure to be "thinking with our own head," our perception of the world around us is filtered through our senses, which are limited and faulty at best.

1b- "The quality or state of being saintly" – What constitutes a saint? Is it someone who spends their life doing for others? Most likely it is someone who’s considered good when measured against our societal scales, which are created by men and are not perfect.

2a- "An exemplification of supreme excellence" – The only supreme excellence is that of a higher intelligence – no man, or anything created by man, can perceive the full concept of it. It equates fitting the waters of an ocean inside a bottle – only a tiny part of it can go in.

2b- "an unsurpassable degree of accuracy or excellence." – Big words, but again, who decides what is accurate and excellent? What parameters do we use to decide if something is completely correct?

Although amazing milestones have been conquered, even science is not perfect, and it is baffled by Nature quite consistently. Just like a virus, perfection cannot be isolated – it mutates and assumes different identities depending on what trends it contends with, and the perception of it changes from individual to individual. That explains why some people can see something or someone and think they are perfect and wonderful, while some others can look at the same and see only faults and defects.

This distinction applies to many concepts – good and evil, beauty and/or lack of it, religion, politics; the list could be endless. Our perception is largely affected by our environment and the rules we have grown to identify with. There is no such thing as a perfect human or a perfect thing – the sooner we realize this simple reality, the closer we will be to understanding that being unique is perfect in itself.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Book Signing

This month my first two literary children are going to be born. Though I often joke around about giving birth to twins, the two couldn’t be any more different in nature. The first one, Housekeeping for the Soul, a nonfiction guide to self-renewal, is written in the same voice as my blog posts, while the second one, The Book of Obeah, is a novel of paranormal suspense.

Since many of you have been following this journey from the start and have asked to be notified when the ‘big day’ would finally come, I am happy and proud to announce (seriously, I am floating about an inch over the floor even as I write this) the official birth of the first twin, Housekeeping for the Soul.

The sweet bundle of joy is due to see the light of the world next Saturday, May 8 between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm at the Barnes & Noble at The Streets at Southpoint in Durham, NC.

Though it is not officially released, I just found out this morning that the second twin, The Book of Obeah, is already stocked at the warehouse as well. It is probably not going to be on the shelves yet, but if you are coming, and you are interested in getting a copy ahead of the official release date, please do call the store a few days prior to the event, and they will have it there waiting for you when you arrive.

Thank you so much for your ongoing support, everybody, and I hope to see many of you next Saturday afternoon.



Sunday, May 2, 2010

School for the Soul

"God allows us to experience the low points in life in order to teach us lessons we would not learn in any other way. The way we learn these lessons is not to deny the feelings but to find the meanings underlying them." ~ Stanley Lindquist

To the joy of most children on a traditional school calendar, the 2009-2010 scholastic year is, once again, drawing to an end. In five and a half more weeks, according to one of my sons, ‘jail will let out.’ That mere comment, happily uttered while standing in front of the calendar counting remaining ‘jail’ days, made me smile.

I asked Michael what he meant by ‘jail life’ at school, and he looked at me with a wide-open, deer-in-the-headlights expression on his face; to his child-mind I had asked the unthinkable. "Why Mom," he said speaking a tad slower as one would do in front of a mentally challenged audience, "I know school is important, but you can’t do anything fun there. And, most of the time, even if teachers get things wrong, you can’t even speak up to say what’s really happening, because that’s considered talking back. And last but not least, there is all this work we always have to do! There just isn’t any time left for being a kid."

I thought for a moment about Michael’s description, and I asked him: "If your teachers didn’t have expectations, and no work was required, if you were never allowed to fail anything or run into conflicts with other kids, school would be more fun, but would you learn anything?"

Michael became silent for a moment, then he looked at me and raised his eyebrow. "Well, I guess not too much. It’s great to have fun all the time, but it doesn’t teach you much, does it?" I gloated inside, careful not to show him how satisfied I was that I had finally won an argument against the teenage genius mind, and I simply smiled at him as he walked away from the calendar and back toward the stairs to go up to his room. This exchange led me to think about life in general, and how wonderful it would be if all could be roses; but if everything was always simple, work and hardship were never an issue, and conflict didn’t exist, would we really learn anything about ourselves and others?

Hardship is often the quickest pathway to learning of our own strengths and weaknesses, and the best gauge to measure our resilience. It is through struggle that we discover we can go the extra mile, and through a bruised ego that we understand what matters most.

While listening to a memorial service a few nights ago, one of the most important things I left with was that our spirit wasn’t born with our body – it is timeless, birthless, deathless, and only using the physical body to learn from our experiences in this world. A life with no challenging experiences would be like a classroom without teachers and curriculums; it would be a fun ride, but in the end we would walk away with nothing learned and little to tell.

A day in school allows children to put in several hours of work and structure, and still gives them a bit of time for recreation and social contact; their time is used to learn and become functional individuals. Life is no different: we are born, learn from other teachers, get punished if we do wrong and rewarded if we do well, and all throughout we enjoy bits of recreational time to relieve the pressure of the challenges leading to our learning. Happy, prosperous and easy-going spells are our well-deserved summer breaks. It might take us a little longer to graduate, but the benefits of our experiences will reach all the way to the soul.