Friday, May 21, 2010

News that Inspires

Of late, I've stopped reading newspapers as voraciously as I used to. I've also drastically reduced the time I spend watching the news on TV. Until a couple of months ago, 9 pm was usually the time I tuned in to an hour-long program on one of India's leading news channels. The debates were interesting, no doubt, especially when they were to do with issues that I was passionate about. However, the mindless arguing and oft-repeated cliches that the speakers would throw at each other, especially if the debate was political, made me feel like walking up to them and slapping them out of their "zombiness." 

More often that not, the news episodes would leave me either with a feeling of a lot of anger at someone or something, or a feeling of complete and utter hopelessness about the state of affairs in this country and the world at large.

Needless to say, I feel better ever since I turned off the news. Perhaps a little less "informed," but the happier for it.

On the one hand, I can see that we are living in times where there is a lot of "bad news" to report. Or are we? Haven't there always been murders and wars? Haven't there always been storms and floods? Haven't there always been mindless rulers who have unleashed mayhem on a particular region of the world for personal ambition? Any top story today has its share of historical counterparts, in some form or another. The "baser" level of human consciousness continues to express itself in this world as it has since the ages, only in different circumstances and over different things.

So it's not like this is the first time in history that all of this stuff is happening. It seems to me, therefore, that for the media to portray an event as though it heralds the end of all things sane is misleading, to say the least. It's the "feeling" with which the reporting leaves me that I'm talking about. If a billion people walk away from their televisions at night feeling fearful, hopeless, and let down, imagine the effect of these emotions on the world's consciousness. Quite obviously, these emotions will feed the growing fear that already clogs world consciousness.

Wherever there are floods and cyclones, there's bound to be destruction. However, alongside the gloom, there will always be plenty of stories of hope to be told as well. I have seen these stories first hand and even been a part of some of them. I have seen that the power of love is far greater then the power of fear. To see people rebuild their lives after earthquakes, to watch others risk their own lives to save complete strangers, to witness simple acts of kindness to birds and animals... these are stories that I'd rather put my attention on each day.

What you put your attention on grows. A lot of spiritual paths tell us this. The more fear I feel now, the more I'm setting myself up to feel fearful in the future. The more hope I feel in this moment, the more I'm setting myself up to feel hopeful in the future too.

Imagine starting your day with a reminder that the world is, actually, a beautiful place where good things can happen anywhere and anytime. That a miracle is just round the corner. That each human being has the power to do so much good. Imagine teaching our children that no matter who you are, or which country you come from, you are a powerful person with the ability to make a positive difference to this world.

It's not hard to find inspiration, if only we're willing to free ourselves of prejudice and make space to be inspired! As I was writing this piece, I looked down at the floor for a second and saw a little ant clumsily walking beside my chair. It nearly looked drunk, barely able to walk straight. When I looked closer, I saw that it was carrying its fallen comrade to safety. The clumsiness of its gait suddenly seemed so purposeful.

Little tales of heroism are playing out all around us. As a matter of fact, ever since I put the paper away, I can see so many.

(Also posted on my blog.)

365 Lessons-Lesson 141: Love All Beings (Especially Cats)

This cat actually crawled up on my neck and was purring as if it had a little motor inside. The last time we walked along the Burke Gilman trail in Seattle, we ran into this lion-like animal. He (she?) crawled up on my husband's neck and just stayed there for what seemed like forever. I thought we'd have to walk back to the car with my husband wearing this furry creature as a scarf.

How could you not stop and pet this cat. We saw bicyclists speeding along at 20 miles an hour jump off their bikes to pet this kitty who seemed to have an infinite supply of love. It just goes to show that what goes around comes around. The cat gives love and so many want to give it back. There's no way I could pass by this big, furry thing without giving it a little love.

We knew the cat was near by because a bicyclist decked out in biking gear...helmet, shades, padded bike shorts, the works...had abandoned her quest to conquer the Burke Gilman trail at rapid speed all for a cat. We could hear her down on her knees near the bushes saying, "Oh, kitty, you're so handsome." My husband and I stopped, we couldn't help it. The woman exclaimed, "This cat is so friendly, how can you not stop."

This regal looking creature abandoned the bicyclist in the bushes, eager to welcome it's new guests. First, the cat came trotting over to me, tail perfectly straight, and gave me a warm, fuzzy welcome.

Then the cat pranced it's way over to my husband and they exchanged a little moment with each other.

Finally, the cat turned in my direction again. Eager to soak up as much love as it could get, the cat climbed up on my shoulder and just lay there completely content.

This little, momentary exchange with an animal who seemed so eager to spend loving time with us really made my day. It made me realize how important our actions are and what an impact they can have on others. This cat was not afraid to be loving and in turn made me feel that way too. It was a beautiful and made me feel really happy the rest of the day. Here's a little video of that experience. May you be happy and peaceful. May you be loving to yourself and all creatures big and small.

Also on my blog Lessons from the Monk I Married

"What's Wrong With The World....and Does It Matter?"

You might have noticed that I've been away from the page for a few weeks...sorry!

Call it Writer's Block if you want, but I really did need some time “away.” Honestly, I've been too engrossed in my own problems, worries and issues to even think about writing something upbeat and positive.

So what brought me back to the page on this particular day? Actually, I've been mulling over the decision to get back into a “semi-healthy” writing habit all week.... it was today's morning news I caught while getting ready to head out that fed my desire to pull out my laptop again. Blasting out at me from the television were the latest efforts to clean up the oil spill in the gulf, mounting financial concerns in Europe (and throughout the entire world), stocks plunging in America, the U.S. unemployment rate back up again, gas prices soaring, and new concerns with the volcano in Iceland. I wondered out loud ...“what is going on?”

Listening to all this, my emotions were assaulted by an over-whelming realization – it's clear that many, many people are NOT happy. Not happy with our leadership, health care, our financial situation(s), environmental issues, communities, the list is huge. And it's not just outside our own back door – our entire global community is suffering. It seems like everyone I know is complaining or hurting in some way. Well, maybe our media makes it seem much worse – it always appears as if there is nothing good to report or talk about in the media these days.

Our parents used to have a saying: “the world is going to hell in a hand-basket.” I used to laugh at this little snippet of pessimism, but I've found myself actually thinking this same sentiment a couple times over the course of the last few months. Now, I certainly don't intend to sugar-coat current events and the impact such things have on us. However, I do know that dwelling within them is not healthy. If we're not willing to look beyond the dark and dismal pictures placed in front of us every day, our communities, our nation, our world will not heal – ever.

My youngest boy who is 17, actually brought up these same feelings and emotions this morning as we drove to school. Talking about the latest impact to the environment in the gulf he said... "man - what's going on, mom? It's like everything is falling apart!" Wow. We forget our kids are noticing this – all of it. We may think these teens are too caught up in their friends, dating, and just having fun, but in reality – they are watching. I agreed with my son – I told him that I, too, had been thinking lately that “the world was going to hell in a hand-basket.” But then I tried to share something with him that would hopefully remind him that there still remains a great deal of good - and good people - in this world, and that bad times won't last forever.

I reminded him that I personally don't believe God “causes” bad things to happen to us and the world, but we are given opportunities to rise above these periods of hardship and pain. What we do, and the decisions we make during those moments of extreme challenge, upheaval, and even unimaginable pain is what ultimately matters. This happens to us as human beings on personal levels, as well as within our local and expanded communities.

Like many other periods in history, we continue to move through the valleys and peaks of light and darkness. For any period of happiness and content we might experience, there is also a time of sadness and pain. It may sound trite, but without enduring upheaval and strife, none of the people who inhabit this earth could possibly understand what peace or contentment mean. Doesn't matter whether you're rich or poor....on a fundamental level, we all know and feel the difference between peace and pain. Though many of us may not have actually experienced these notable periods, the people of earth have survived and overcome terrible odds. The “Great Depression” of the 1930's brought our country to it's knees, while the global economy also suffered immense loss and progress was crippled. World War II had a negative impact on each community, every country of the world in some way – and we were forced to become more aware of our global connection to each other. During each crises, I can only imagine the fear and loss of hope that those who actually lived it might have felt. But people pulled together, learned to rely on one another - sometimes on a global level- and continued to believe and search for the good in the world.

My point is this – we've been there before. And each time our country or world has endured extreme adversity, hatred and even death, we've survived and come back stronger. As individuals, we experience these lowest moments deep within our souls. A former spiritual advisor of mine once referred to our lowest periods of faith as our “desert moments.” Again, it never matters whether you are Protestant, Hindu, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, or any of the numerous faith traditions of the world - we all have experienced and will experience moments where we think our faith has left us, or is tested. But when we rise – and we will – that renewal of strength and faith is stronger than what we might previously have believed.

Pretty big “pill” to swallow, isn't it? That we have to endure these tough times? Having the bad news thrown in your face on a daily basis doesn't help, I know. Whether it's the front page of the local newspaper, the news source on your I-phone, or the 6 o'clock news on television, we just can't escape it. And to top it all off, we're each dealing with our own personal demons, issues and situations.

A key word for today: Believe.

Believe that there are still good people around you, in your hometown, in your state, your country, around the globe. If you have a day where you feel you just haven't witnessed or felt any glimmer of hope or goodness from those you've come in contact with, strengthen your belief by choosing to search out stories of people reaching out beyond themselves, performing random acts of kindness, or love unconditionally.

Believe that the best is yet to come. “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Current events are exactly what they are – current events. This too shall pass, and another day will dawn.

Believe that you can be anything you want to be. Each of us, by doing one small thing each day CAN make a difference, make a change, have an impact. If everybody thought that it “wasn't worth it” to write a letter to their congressman, or “it doesn't matter” if I donate $1.00 to this charity, or “my presence at this meeting” doesn't matter – we all know that nothing would ever change. Change is a collective effort – the act of complaining about someone else's actions or lack there-of never produces results.

Believe that Angels are among us...and YOU just might be one of them. Take time to notice those around you who have made an impact in your life, and recognize their presence. Remain open to the possibility that even your smile or “hello” could lift the heart of another.

I don't know about you, but I feel better now...

We may not have seen our darkest days on this planet, but I'm confident in the innate goodness of humanity and our common goal to love and be loved. Really, what else matters?

As citizens of such a large planet, we are spread thousands of miles apart with cultures and customs so incredibly different from each other. Yet we are still very much the same - we all feel pain, but we all have a tremendous capacity to love.

Yep, the “world may be going to hell in a hand-basket,” but I am now reminded that my personal worries are just a minute speck of dust in the millions of emotions floating around this world.

A better day IS coming, for all of us –

I Believe

Words and music by Erwin Drake, Irvin Graham, Jimmy Shirl, Al Stillman

I believe, for every drop of rain that falls,
a flower grows.

I believe that somewhere in the darkest night,
a candle glows.

I believe for everyone who goes astray,
someone will come, to show the way.
I believe, I believe.

I believe above the storm the smallest prayer
will still be heard.

I believe that someone in the great somewhere
hears every word.

Every time I hear a newborn baby cry,
or touch a leaf, or see the sky,
then I know why I believe!

I believe above the storm the smallest prayer,
will still be heard.

I believe that someone in the great somewhere,
hears every word.

Every time I hear a newborn baby cry,
or touch a leaf, or see the sky,
then I know why, I believe!

 Pay it forward - spread a smile!

Photos courtesy of Google images.
Also on my post at:

The seven ages

These days I am reminded a lot of Shakespeare's "The Seven Ages of Man" from the play "As You Like It."

I had it memorized for elocution contests in school and remember being lauded for my oratory. One teacher had commented that the passion I bring to the poem tells her I "get it."

I'm not sure I did as much then as I do now.

I have passed through three stages, with the first one being more or less a blur. I don't remember "mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" but I do recall being a sick child.

Frailty was my trademark back then.
The Seven Ages of Man

How distinct that memory of "the whining schoolboy schoolgirl with his her satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school." I hated getting up at 6 a.m. Eyes half-closed I would go through the morning routine, skipping showering some days so I wouldn't miss my morning ride.

Sometimes I deliberately went through the motions slowly -- the rickshaw-wallah would ring the doorbell at 6:55 a.m. and if I were still putting on my socks mom couldn't pester me to drink milk!

"And then the lover" -- those days of long-distance romance; the e-cards; the letters. The pining; the waiting; the attempts to miss flights back to Iowa City. Passed all too quickly.

"Then a soldier" -- this, my current age. But unlike the soldier "Jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon's mouth," I find myself contemplating, discovering, questioning the value of a bubble reputation.

I'm more grounded, less excitable. More ponderous.

I want to know the meaning of life. The reason why we do what we do.

I seek truth -- if there is something like it.

And worth.

Perhaps, somewhere in that quest, discover myself.

I look around me and I see friends consumed by their children's lives -- reliving the first stage, preparing for the second, fearing the third, but in the process losing themselves ... their lives but a reflection of their offsprings'.

Given my contemplations, perhaps, I'll fast-forward to the fifth stage "full of wise saws, and modern instances" really rapidly.

Then slowly inch my way to the sixth and seventh and into oblivion: sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Here's the entire poem for you to ponder over:

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms;
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin'd,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav'd, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

— Jaques (Act II, Scene VII, lines 139-166)

Also on my blog.

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Presence and Contemplation

Place your attention here and now with me in this moment. Begin to focus your attention first on your breathing and slow your breathing down. You may want to take a couple of deep, cleansing breaths and then begin to slow your breathing down. As you focus on your breathing and on slowing it down, feel your entire body relax.

Feel the facial muscles relax, unfurrow your brow, relax your mouth and jaw, relax your neck. Allow the feeling of relaxation flow through your entire body as you continue to focus on slowing down your breathing. Allow any tension in the body to simply melt away, feel the tension melt away as you slow down your breathing.

Focus on slowing down your thoughts as you continue to feel yourself relax, allow your thoughts to become gentle thoughts. Allow tenderness and gentleness to enter as you allow any harsh and stressful thoughts to simply pass by. Allow the stream of activity in your brain, the chatter to slow down, to pass away, as you feel a gentle tenderness fill you.

Allow all thoughts to pass away, even hurtful thoughts or thoughts of anger, just allow them to pass by and dissolve away. You can allow all thoughts, even if they are stressful or disturbing to simply pass by as mental activity, nothing important to hold onto, it is just the brain performing a function, just as the heart performs the function of pumping blood through your body.

Allow the peace and calm that fills you as you continue to relax and allow random thoughts to simply pass away encourage forgiveness. Allow any and all thoughts that can be replaced with forgiveness to pass away and allow forgiveness to fill that space.

A quote from Lord Edwary Hyde Clarendon for you to contemplate:

Anger is the most impotent of passions. It affects nothing it touches and hurts the one who is possessed by it more than the one against whom it is directed. 
I run a regular series every Friday offering presence and contemplation at my blog The Evolving Spirit