May I Blog A Little Peace Into Your Day?

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I ask because I’ve found not everyone is willing, or maybe just not ready, to accept a peaceful message or gesture, a kind word, a token of love. Would you accept? My hope is that if you are reading, you’re feeling enthusiastic about the idea, maybe even saying to yourself, Well, of course you may! Who wouldn’t want a little of that? This I hope, as I curl up in the safe, diverse, friendly space of the blog universe, a place where I haven’t yet encountered a hostile comment placed on me or others. Where I can sit with my cup of warm tea in my comfortable home and feel shielded from the negative energies drifting–or even howling furiously along–outside.

Whew! It sure does feel good to step into a comfortable space and be surrounded by a respite of cheerful, positive thoughts.

The past few weeks have been an experiment and a lesson for me. I’ve been disheartened, surprised, confused, and left wondering What should I do next? What should anybody do next? I’ve discovered that while in the minority, there are a number of people in the world who have curiously hurtful thoughts against others and little reservation in using words to make them known. I’ve also learned that if you want to dedicate yourself to being among the voices to speak up for unity and social awareness, you would be better off joining a speakers bureau, organizing a community event, or writing a book. Discussions on news and public figure websites are not really the place to initiate adequate change.

So I’ve decided that after my much needed refuge in the kind little corner of the blogosphere I’ve been fortunate to find, I will continue to take my own advice and focus on more productive places to put healing intentions and energies. I will also do my best to Keep Calm and Laugh It Off, as my husband encourages me to do. Below is a brief exchange in one conversation regarding current events. It’s one I could at least muster up a humorous feeling for, and, I believe, a fine example of how not to effectively communicate each other. If anything, I hope I can be an inspiration, a reminder that time and words are precious, and that while sometimes it’s worth a try to speak up, other times it turns out to be waste of precious energy.

What we should do next is simply relax, take in a breath of the beautiful day, and offer a friendly word or two to all those we cross paths with.

And the comment that started it was:

James, you don’t have to accept Islam, you just need accept your fellow humans who are doing nothing to harm anyone. That’s the greatest thing we can all do for this world. Don’t feel sorry for me, no reason to. I sleep at night in good conscience and with happiness because I know I’ve done as much as possible each day to be respectful and kind in this world. I wish you and everyone the best regardless of your opinion of me. What you think of me isn’t important, it’s not about me, it’s about being as good as we possibly can in an existence that flies by in the blink of an eye. Why waste the time contributing to negative energy, supporting the idea that there is an entire group of people who are all evil and want to harm the world and should be treated as inhuman? Isn’t that what led to the Holocaust and the genocide of Native Americans? Words have power, be careful how you structure them into an idea.

Followed by one supportive remark, from Dalia, whoever she may be. Although her comments received no likes, it was appreciated, at least by me.

You go girl ♡

Followed up by:

sorry but the way I see it, Stephanie == Head in Sand, Rainbows and Unicorns sprouting from anus. Islam needs to be outlawed like it is in China.

about an hour ago · Like · 4

As you can see, he received 4 likes. Not too bad. And this was followed up with a comment from Graham:

whoah … what and what comin outa where? that’d be a sight indeed … lol

I liked this one. It was innocent enough, and I appreciate humor. Next, I tried my best with what I thought to be an effort at peacekeeping, but perhaps it was too sarcastic. No likes received for:

Rainbows and Unicorns? Head in the sand? Call it what you like, but I grew up in a very diverse family and have seen the beauty of coexistence and dedicate my time to supporting this idea.

And the concluding remark:

The concluding remark by, posted by someone I imagine to be an angry-looking man with and serpents for hair and a gaze that could turn me to stone in a matter of seconds, involved the word “kill,” so I thought it best to leave it at walking away perplexed by the amount of bullying that we, as adults, are capable of.

If I, or anyone, were to judge ourselves by numbers of likes on a social networking site, on insults directed at us by others attacking safely from the security of their unknown locations on the other side of a computer screen, or by other peoples’ drives to bully, we would lose the strength to stand up for ourselves and others; we might start to believe the lie.  It can get vicious out there. So keep calm, and don’t forget to laugh. Even when it doesn’t help it certainly doesn’t hurt.

The One-More-Year Project

Stop a moment and look at your days, notice your schedules, consider your goals and dreams and hopes. What are you working on, or planning to work on, that is a priority to you, either because it needs to be done or because it is close to your heart, or both?

Maybe there’s a garden or a book, painting, quilt, or some other creation you are set on nurturing into being. Maybe it’s a car you want to work on, a home that needs renovating, or a home that just needs a little interior makeover to fit your interests and design sensibilities more closely. You might want to take a dance class or learn photography, or your focus might be on health, such as an exercise or diet routine that you want to start seeing and feeling results from, or prayer or meditation you want to learn or be more devoted to.

Maybe it is something more emotional, like working through anxiety or grief or addiction, or healing your thoughts and spirit after loss of a loved one either through death (maybe even the death of a cat or dog or some other animal, which is never just a “pet,” but a friend and part of the family) or the ending of a relationship. Healing your thoughts and spirit because you aren’t where you were hoping to be yet in life, or you’re far from home and miss everything about it, or you left your job by choice or by termination and you’re uncertain what to do next. You might be coping with the emotional and physical strains of a long-term illness that may or may not go away, or coping with ups and downs in your family life that you’re at a loss for how to peaceably solve. Maybe you have felt the lagging sadness of exhaustion and depression for any of these reasons, any other reason, or for seemingly no reason at all.

There are many things that take time to work on. Some are “good things,” those things we look forward to completing due to the sense of joy and accomplishment that will settle inside of us once finished. And then there are the “bad things,” things that we know will bring joy and accomplishment once a change is made, a solution or acceptance found, but that in the meantime feel impossible to work through to reach the transformation that will bring us peace of mind.

Research in the fields of neuroscience and psychology cautions that goal-setting can be counterproductive, holding us back at times, especially when we set out to reach a goal and things change along the way, are not as perfect as we had envisioned. Giving yourself more time to get to positive change means being open to revisions in plans or to different outcomes–if you say something will be accomplished within a year and you are dedicated to it, you will see a change, yet it may happen in both predicted and surprising, unplanned ways. We can set the goals, which are important to have, but we can alter them accordingly, out of want or necessity. Are we always in control of factors life presents us with? No, we are in many ways at mercy of how life unfolds; we move with the days, they don’t move with us.

So who is in control? Sometimes us, but many times not. Pretty much always us when it pertains to what we’re thinking, to how we cope and plan. Being in control of our mind and spirit–this is where our power to improve, to create and fulfill dreams, and to appreciate our delicate existence lies. It is a genuine power, and it doesn’t work without two main ingredients: practice and patience, the roots of giving things a little more time to see a healthy, colorful growth.

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Six years ago I read a book by author Sana Krasikov called One More Year. The book is a collection of short stories; the main characters are emigrees and would-be emigrees from the collapsed Soviet Empire. The main character in “Maia in Yonkers” moves to America to earn a living following the death of her husband, and leaves her young son in the care of her sister. Maia’s son, Gogi, finally passes an Embassy interview as a teenager to visit his mother, and comments to Maia in an emotional exchange that he no longer understands why she must live in America, telling her, “Every year you say ‘It’s one more year, one more year’!”

In the context of the story, this comment isn’t a happy one, it isn’t hopeful. It holds in it the frustration of wanting things to change for the better but believing they won’t, the sadness of not knowing how to fix a family that has been separated first by death, and then by geographical distance. It shows years passing by, one after the other, without the longed for resolution. Naming the book One More Year might have been done so to imply this sort of hopeless passage of time; it might also allude to something we must all do at times and which may lead to the outcome we truly need–waiting.

A few years after reading Krasikov’s book, I found the phrase one more year drifting into my mind in the midst of difficult situations. There are two things difficult situations can do to our thoughts that create a dangerous situation for our emotional state: they can produce tunnel vision, in which we see nothing but the problem and feel impotent to plan beyond it, or they can make us want to get out of the problem so badly that all we see is the end goal, and it looks overwhelming, incomprehensible, unreachable because we can’t slow our minds down to focus on the very necessary steps (and time) it will take to get there. These are the perspectives that can lead us into depression and some of the more destructive elements that may accompany it, for some people right up to suicidal thoughts and actions. On a less drastic note, tunnel vision or overwhelming broad vision can make us give up on a goal that is important to us, causing us to tuck it away until a later day comes when we wonder what may be different in our lives had we pursued whatever dream we gave up—what it might have led to next.

One more year. The words began popping into my mind with more force, strong and vibrant, asking me to look not too far ahead, but ahead nonetheless. Be hopeful, and patient, is what they were synonymous to. At the point when it seemed my husband and I would never catch up on our finances after the astounding fees of the immigration process, while we were living in an apartment we were grateful for but also found to be within an oppressive atmosphere we were ready to move on from, and while I was working in a mental health recovery center that seemed to promote further emotional conflict rather than healing—having a contagion effect on many of the employees, myself included—a sense of life as an overwhelming burden rather than a mysterious, beautiful gift began creeping into corners of my mind, threatening to deplete energy, happiness, hopefulness.

One more year. Suddenly, much like a wise teacher, the words were there to offer the chance to recognize a new direction. I made a promise to myself in the form of The One-More-Year Project: We will see improvement in every aspect of our lives by this time next year. And that is, step by step, exactly what happened.

It does help that I’m partnered with someone with a high amount of energy and optimism, it doesn’t hurt to be inspired and supported by others; but I believe that anybody, anywhere, in any circumstances and with or without the support of others has the capability to follow their own needed steps reach their own desired goals. We are all designed with the trait of resilience—by nature, we own the rights to self-improvement.

After moving into a new home, seeking out new career options that will keep my own mental state healthier as I work toward licensure as a clinical counselor, and seeing our financial situation improve drastically with care—all while maintaining gratitude for all of the beauty in life that counters the difficulties, which is a very essential attitude for reaching dreams of any kind—I continue to keep the phrase close by. One more year. A wise teacher and an old friend. As I look at my writing projects, my homework, my business ideas, the dance classes I want to return to because the artistic motion brings me joy, volunteer efforts I would like to be further involved in, or when I encounter moments of sadness or exhaustion or perplexity that sometimes accompany life situations in a strong way, I remind myself—I’m here right now, and I can decide how much progress I hope to see by next year, and I will keep a plan in my mind or in a notebook or on a dry-erase board, wherever it stands out the most, and I will see that progress.

Give yourself a year before you give up, before you walk away from something your heart believes in but your mind has begun to doubt. Promise yourself you will see a change by that time, and then start moving there in steps, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute if you need to. Picture yourself free on a stage, enveloped in dance. Picture your garden blooming with health and radiance. Picture your car running perfect and happy because you tended to it with as much precision as a surgeon caring for a life. Picture yourself smiling, healing, and enjoying your days along with those you love, everything as well as can be, just as it should be.

A family member recently told me about her years when she used to run track; she said that imaging how many miles away the finish line was would immediately make her feel that she couldn’t get there. So she would start running while focusing only on her immediate surroundings. She would then think of finishing that first mile, but keep only that first mile in mind. Once one mile was passed, the next could be acknowledged. This gave her the energy, and patience, she needed to keep her body moving to a very distant stopping point.

If you need more than a year, or less, that’s fine. This is your project now. Just start by seeing where you’re at, focusing, and gradually looking further until you’re standing at the place you set out for. Most importantly, don’t forget to bring your patience, your gratitude, and your ability to enjoy life along the way.

Suggested (Inspirational) Reading:

The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying To Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, Gretchen Rubin. Book.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Happiness-Project-Aristotle-Generally-ebook/dp/B002VJ9HRK

The Power of Patience, Judith Orloff, M.D. Article.

“Patience is a lifelong spiritual practice as well as a way to find emotional freedom.”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/judith-orloff-md/how-to-be-patient_b_1748430.html

How To Set Goals, Will Meeks, Ph.D. Article.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/notes-self/201308/how-set-goals

Science and Religion by Starlight and Streetlight

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Science doesn’t hate religion, just as religion doesn’t hate science. This I am confident in stating.

The sharp, irreconcilable contrast between science and religion are only as sharp and irreconcilable as we believe them to be. These two schools of thought, which we sometimes spend inordinate amounts of time and energy separating from each other, are nothing more than two natural facets of human intellect derived to bring sense, order, and purpose to existence, and they complement each other harmoniously–just as the steel and glass and concrete of our cities can blend with natural horizon and hues to enhance the beauty laced throughout an environment.

I love science but dislike how we sometimes use it with hostility, looking for every possible way that a theory or formula or function related to our material existence may disprove the reality of creation–creation as defined as a function of a thinking entity, an intelligent designer, such as God. I love religion and spirituality, but can also say I dislike when we use religious, spiritual, God-related thought to discredit scientific thought. Why do we place so much precious energy into fighting over concepts we can often neither prove nor disprove; information that stays happily dancing in the outer layers of logic and reality beyond our intellectual reach? We’ve got to admit it at some point–we just aren’t sure what in the world the world is, where it came from, where we and all other interesting creatures came from, where exactly all of our thoughts and ideas originate, what a thought is, why coffee is so divine or why bell bottoms never really go out of style. Instead of depleting our energies over trivialities, what about a more compassionate, concerted effort between us to simply drop our defenses and stop protecting the sense of superiority our personal biases and beliefs confine us to, so that we instead can enjoy and investigate the brilliant mystery of existence together? It’s just a thought, it’s just a slightly frustrated statement I feel compelled to make after reading article after article from each side of the great debate, finding few that honor the fundamental crux of the mystery–that it is, in great measure, mystery and allows for varied, imaginative, free-flowing thought and theory.

The world outside this middle of the night, this almost 2AM in summertime, is wonderful. Loosely flowing clouds, stars framed with poignant light, low rumble from a military plane drifting toward the nearby base, smell of the earlier evening’s rain still infused in soil, grass, and voluminous tree leaves. I sit on a balcony created through the art of architecture, shaped and nailed into place by human workers. I drink a warm mug (man made) of hot chocolate with ingredients made in part from cocoa beans that once grew from the earth. I see both airplanes and stars in the sky, the quiet neighborhood is lit with both streetlights and celestial light. It’s too beautiful a night to skip sitting outside and feeling the undeniable magnitude of beauty the senses were designed to pick up, the mind was designed to interpret, and something somewhat unexplainable within us is able to connect with, finding love and purpose there. I, like everyone else, am both intellectual machine and emotional being; the basic dual-purpose human design.

As a long-term student and practitioner of psychology, I am familiar with neuroscience, anatomy, and chemical theories of behavior. As a lifelong seeker and practitioner of the spiritual elements of existence, I also know of neuroscience, anatomy, and chemical theories of behavior–the ways these affect and are affected by spiritual thoughts and actions–as well as intuition, emotional energy, and faith. What I personally have found, what I have concluded in my own way, of my own accord and path, unaffected by and not wishing to affect the paths of others, is that both sets of traits assigned to these two different schools of thought exist merged at points, blended in ways, inseparable in certain concepts. The more I study science, the more I understand creation. The more I consider creation the more easily I see it in the methodic, formulaic arrangement of earth, solar system, universe, each earthly terrain or plant or bird, and each further placed planet or galaxy. When Rene Dubos, microbiologist, experimental pathologist, environmentalist, and humanitarian, said that “each human being is unique, unprecedented, unrepeatable,” I believe it is a statement that belies intelligent design. And in the Dalai Lama’s statement, “What we do and think in our own lives, then, becomes of extreme importance as it effects everything we’re connected to,” is the reminder that we live in an interconnected, systematic world that scientific thought can help us understand.

As a usually peaceful kind of person—I admit to having my moments—I find the greater mystery of living is why we fight with such diligence to show each other how wrong it is to believe certain things, bringing significant ways of thought such as science and religion into the fight to apply as weapons instead of unifying forces of humanity. We were brought into this world without any say, and here we are, moving right along with the universe–all we really need do is enjoy and honor the fact that we are here, witnessing existence and being given a vast amount of information to explore. How each of us understands our being here is personal and should be safe from the judgments of others.

What an unusual fact it is to have wound up in this complex world of mystery upon mystery, beauty after beauty, and how any of this truly came to be is still not information we are privy to.

On perfect nights that expose the artistry of existence, including the way nature and technology coexist in incredibly harmonious fashion, it seems so crystally, star-lighty, refreshingly clear that understanding the mystery should be included among things best not to bicker about. Grab a drink, warm or cold, and a friend to talk with under the sky instead.

*******
My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit
who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive
with our frail and feeble minds.
That deeply emotional conviction of the presence
of a superior reasoning power, which is revealed in the incomprehensible Universe,
forms my idea of God.

–Albert Einstein
*******

*What if we asked each other more instead, and then listened, closely, to the answers?
*In what small ways will you share more with others and let others share with you in order to understand more?

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Tea With Thanatos At 3AM

“I’m not afraid of dying; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”—Woody Allen

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Sometimes insomnia is interesting, sitting you up in the middle of the night to visit a calmness and silence the days don’t afford. You have the illusion of life in suspension, with most human activity, including bouts of traffic, stilled for the time. The moon is so clear, the stars so vital. If a tree rustles or a window rattles, it seems intended especially for you; the breezes outside seem to want to say hello and check in on your night before they go on. The world is all yours for a short while, so instead of getting too worked up over the lack of sleep, it becomes a calm time to boil water and steep yourself a cup of Sleepytime tea until you’re ready get aligned again with your expected biological rhythm as a sleep at night, wake at day, human creature.

Sometimes insomnia means you have a little too much on your mind, say a fear or something like that. Say a phobia, maybe even thanatophobia. Thanatophobia is the phobia of death; not just a basic fear of dying, according to the description I found myself reading at 3AM, but “an intense, overwhelming fear of death.” Reading on to the causes—which I almost didn’t, because what causes the fear of death does seem fairly apparent—the roots of any phobia, including thanatophobia, are said to be based in early trauma of the phobia sufferer’s life. The symptoms of thanatophobia are described as follows: “symptoms of thanatophobia are as individual as the people coping with this phobia. Some people, when confronted with their fear of death and dying, may feel slightly uncomfortable, nauseated or simply begin to perspire. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some people are so severely affected by this phobia, that they will experience anxiety and/or panic attacks.” To meet the criteria of a phobia, there must be both emotional and physical reactions when confronted by a fearful stimulus. Some people are so affected by a fear of dying and non-existence that to be thanatophobic can bring “intense, crippling anxiety that disrupts a person’s daily life.” The panic attacks themselves worsen the situation as they often bring the physical symptoms of dry mouth, muscle tension, fear of impending disaster, feeling short of breath, heart palpitations, and feelings of losing control–physical and mental sensations that become interpreted as feelings of impending death.

On this particular 3AM, I was thankfully free of any type of crippling anxiety, heart palpitations, and urges to unnecessarily shake my husband—so peacefully sleeping in blissful unawareness—awake to beg him to tighten the blood pressure cuff from the closet around my arm “just to be sure.” Although my blood pressure runs low and I’m not under medical surveillance for anything, the mind in the middle of a phobic attack can make you doubt most anything rational, especially when having a little fear-of-death moment and your home is filled with such gems as sphygmomanometers, pulse oximeters, and stethoscopes–tools of the trade from my previous nurse assisting gigs, not the stockpile of a hypochondriac, I assure you–all begging you to obsessively check to be sure all is working well. This, however, was not one of those times of full-out, panic-stricken, irrational thoughts of doom. So I decided to make the best of it by, of all things, slowing my thoughts, taking a breath, and focusing. Sometimes we just need a quiet moment to analyze a situation until it finally snaps clearly into focus, therefore making more sense to us.

Since childhood, I’ve fit with the thanatophobes of the world; only mildly at first, but over time with a little more pronouncement. I have a few friends from childhood who interestingly enough have had the same experience throughout their lives, having what seems like a natural inclination for a close, tumultuous relationship with an acute awareness of mortality resulting in acute questioning, seeking, and at times fearing. Fear of death and questioning the reason for existence when faced with mortality are not uncommon; 68% of the American population are said to admit to necrophobia, which is fear of death but also of things related to death, such as coffins or funeral homes or dead things lying around—a bird or a squirrel stone cold in an otherwise lovely spring garden, for example. It’s perfectly natural to be human and fear that which we don’t understand, including the loss of the lives we are so accustomed to; the burden of being human tends to lie in being sentient. Why be given something so amazing, a life so full of beauty and love, and the capacity to be so fully aware of it only to have to one day be erased from it? How unfair, and uncomfortable, is that? Woody Allen said it well by saying he isn’t afraid of death, he just doesn’t want to be there when it happens. In some parallel universe, couldn’t it just be that even though we die, we really don’t, since we didn’t have to be there when it happened?

Is it any wonder these thoughts sometimes keep us up and afraid to go back to sleep at 3AM?

There’s nothing overtly traumatic in my childhood regarding death, but my guess is that since I also fit well with the description of a HSP, or highly sensitive person (which I think means sensitive enough to be considered “abnormal” but with the right amount of mental/emotional stability to avoid a proper DSM diagnosis), the lessons of death and dying and afterlife that began at birth were something my mind wasn’t ready to take on at early ages. Being raised in a Catholic family meant going to church weekly, starting as a bundled up infant without a care or an awareness of the deeply philosophical subject matter of religion but, nonetheless, taking the words into consciousness during all of those formative months and years of developing language and understanding its meanings. Heaven, hell, death, God, angels, resurrection, eternity. Oh my. It’s not a complaint or a regret, though, I don’t believe we should shelter young minds from learning about life, including big subjects like mortality and the mystery of both life and death–it’s a great spiritual and intellectual opportunity to be introduced to such lofty concepts at an early age. I only believe we need to be aware of why we might think in a certain way when it becomes in some way uncomfortable or destructive; we should be willing to look into our own histories and examine what it can be traced back to, if anything.

Sometimes knowing the start of an issue helps you understand why you have been holding on to negative thoughts or energy for too long; it helps you release that which hurts you, so that you may heal. Often we do develop fears or worries in childhood along with ineffective methods for dealing with them, then become emotionally controlled by our habitual methods and forget to learn how to let a fear go. Couple this with heightened sensitivity in the emotional realm and you can wind up with a phobia so developed it really does have its own entity, accompanying you through life like the evil twin you never wished you had.

What a great revelation, and sweet moment. For once, I was able to slow my mind and think these things, and let husband sleep his comfortable sleep most likely filled with life-affirming dreams (and dreams of fresh falafels, which he often misses because you just can’t access them in the Omaha area the way you can in Chicago, or back home in Palestine). For once, I developed a new method based on the idea of facing your fears: if death, for whatever reason, has stepped into my mind again in such a negative way, why not approach death not as a fear, but as a face. An entity. A person one could sit and share a cup of tea with.

Thanatophobia derives its name from Thanatose, the Greek personification of death. I figured I would start there. Next step: pulling a comfortable blanket around my shoulders, pouring more tea, and settling onto the warm, cozy couch. When you are physically comfortable anything scary or otherwise negative is often easier to deal with.

I considered pouring an extra cup of tea to set on the table (and if husband were to wake I could simply offer it to him—It’s for you, dear! I’m not sitting here talking to ghosts! Really, I’m okay!) the way people offer food and drink and other gifts to the spirits of deceased loved ones on Dia de los Muertos, the way people leave fruits and money and various objects at the altars within Hindu and Buddhist temples for beings of the transcendent realms, or light candles when praying to Jesus, Mary, or the saints. Here, Thanatose, use my favorite cup, and we’ll sit and talk like friends.

I figured the spiritual realm operates a little differently, though, so I left it to a B.Y.O.T.C. situation; even death may have his own favorite tea cup. I settled in and decided, once and for all, to stop seeing a natural, unavoidable part of existence fundamentally as a fear. It didn’t seem very possible considering I’ve been wishing to resolve this problem for decades now, with little true progress, but I realized the wishing has been part of the problem—too much passive wishing, not enough active deciding.

The way I met with Thanatos was to learn more about him, to go back to the mythology and see his origins and trace the idea people have developed of Thanatos and other ideas of death over time. What caught my attention first was the description of Thanatos; I was surprised to see he was not described simply as death, but as the god of non-violent death who has a touch that is “gentle, likened to that of his twin brother Hypnos (Sleep).” He does have “blood-craving” sisters, the Keres, whose domain is that of slaughter and disease, but Thanatos himself is more like a simple fact of mortality, a rational explanation that all things living do approach an end. All of this information was thought-provoking; I was on the right path. Is there a fear of a certain kind of death? Is nonexistence and the disappearance of this life, where I am recognized by name and physicality, a more comfortable concept when you can truly imagine it as a peaceful transition of mind and soul? Something gentle within nature that simply wants to guide you into another phase of what you are as a sentient being, made of more than observable matter, made also of energy, emotion, and intellect. Made of what we cannot see or understand by tangible means, yet it exists.

Into the next hour I read, pushing on as the familiar senses of fear, anxiety, and other discomfort billowed through mind and body. I don’t want to take this fear with me through every day; I want to learn more about life by accepting every aspect of it, including its ending. I want to form some semblance of peace that is constant, not just one that at times improves a little but then rushes back because some comment or movie or book or visit to the doctor’s got me thinking in a phobic way again. Enough is enough. I want to have peace with every aspect of life in the same way I like to get along with every person I meet. It’s just the healthiest way.

Somewhere near 5AM, somewhere between articles about various cultural beliefs and fears surrounding death, various mythological descriptions of death, and a few websites addressing methods for dealing with fears of dying, the Sleepytime tea, cozy set up in the living room, and glimmering snow visible at the balcony window had all crept into my senses to infuse a sense of calm. It was time to sleep.

Sometimes insomnia might have a purpose, rousing us at a time when we are stuck alone with our thoughts and emotions, with plenty of time to focus on them without the interruption of our waking routines. All in all, I’m happy that fear and a lack of sleep inspired an invitation extended to Thanatos, whom I had imagined as a demonic entity with solid muscles and a cruel face of icy eyes and even icier breath. Not only did Thanatos turn out to be depicted as a calm-faced, bearded man—amazingly enough looking more like my kind father than a demon—but there was a more rational characterization for him: that of a gentle, and one could suppose conscientious or compassionate, death.

Like many others, like 68% of Americans or possibly even 68% of all humans, I still have a level of discomfort with mortality and may not be at complete peace with the idea of shuffling off this mortal coil and gliding into the unknown. I do hope, though, that I have finally learned the key to accepting all aspects of existence as beautiful, integral parts of each other that are nothing to fear. That is yet to be seen for sure, but I think I’m on the right path.

Regardless of my evolution, I’m sure I will still hold an appreciation for Woody Allen quotes.

One Magical Poetry Trio: Clay, Robins, Limon

In the very beginning of April 2012, my lovely artist friend, Kimberly, invited me to a poetry reading in Omaha. I had no information on who the poets were and neither asked Kimberly or researched the event online to learn about the evening’s guests. As someone with a loving connection to the world of poetry–that magical, but also logical, world of symbol and myth and metaphor and emotion created by the language of poetry–I knew it didn’t matter who the writers were, that what they were bringing to their readers was likely to have earned its place in the wider world considering they were now on a book tour together, driving through various states with a supply of their books riding along and ready to enter the lives of others.

We arrived at the reading just as the first poet was taking his place in front of the microphone, and as gracefully as possible stuffed ourselves through the small crowd to get to two open chairs near the front. I love the moment of suspense, that lively energy, that swirls around in the silence just before a writer takes a breath and begins reading from his or her work: What words will show up, what stories and ideas? Where will it take your mind and emotions, where will it all hit you hardest? Also, will I love, really love, the fact that I took the time to be here?

I would never consider sitting in on any writer’s reading a waste of my time, but I do love it when the world they offer with their work invites me in wholly and lets me stay awhile.

We sat through the readings given by Adam Clay, Michael Robins, and Ada Limon, and not only did I love the time I had taken to be there, but I also felt like bowing a little and kissing Kimberly’s hand in gratitude for calling me that evening and saying, simply, “You should check it out!”

If you are a reader or writer of poetry, if you can’t help having a natural soul-connection to the world poems create and reside in, please, if you buy anything new from this artform, make it works by Clay, Robins, and Limon if you haven’t already. And hopefully you will feel a similar connection to and admiration for their work.

Admittedly, the personal connection was there for me at the start, with the first poem mentioning Chicago (a city all three poets have a connection to). I had returned from Chicago a couple of weeks before, still full of the adventure of journeying on the train, still full of the colors and horizon of the city, even more full of love for my dear soulmate and therefore full also with a sense of misery being in our different cities again, unaware he would soon be moving back. That first poem made me happy, it made me sad. It spoke to me in a way it wouldn’t have if I had just returned from any other city in the world under different circumstances. The specific personal connection got my attention, and I loved the poem all the more for it, but the rest of the poems kept that connection with their honest, graceful, unpretentious yet powerful storytelling.

The night had a sense of beauty and magic and energy; not only did the writers’ poems all stand strong on their own, but the writers’ poems getting together in the same space intensified the reading. Whoever was insightful enough to put these three writers together–whether an instructor or an agent or the writers themselves–has a great instinct and should be thanked for bringing such a perfect trio together, dreaming up that they should tour around an area of this world with their own worlds of words.
***

Ada Limon
http://www.amazon.com/Ada-Limón/e/B001K7P35Y/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1389482284&sr=1-2-ent

http://www.amazon.com/Sharks-Rivers-Ada-Limon/dp/1571314385/ref=la_B001K7P35Y_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389482288&sr=1-1
***
Adam Clay

http://www.amazon.com/Hotel-Lobby-Edge-World-Poems/dp/1571314415/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1389482309&sr=1-1&keywords=adam+clay
***
Michael Robins

http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Robins/e/B001JRX4OC/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1389479219&sr=1-2-ent

New Year Renewal, Reflection, and Accessing the Good

New Year’s is thought of as a time of renewal. To renew is to “recommence” or to “come back to or start again” or to “resume (an activity) after an interruption.” What is it that stops at December 31st and resumes on January 1st? There’s really no blank space between minutes, no gap between night and day, no stopping of one moment flowing into all the others. There’s no stopping, also, of the energy of our cells and thoughts, the energy flow of all life: motion and dreams perpetual.

Reflection, though, is the thoughtful interruption of our linear thinking, or even our hyperactive, spastic, circular and boomerang and every-which-way thoughts. We pause the direction and commotion, we create a peaceful valley of ideas, memories, and hopes. We think on something and then ask ourselves what it means or how it can lead to improvement in life. We reflect also to give thanks for what we have, what we have experienced, for whatever it is we should hold sincerest gratitude for.

Reflection, “or to sit in serious thought,” letting thoughts of a day or moment or period of time bounce back from their memories into our current reality so that we may seriously consider the emotion and meaning of them. And forge new ideas and directions in life.

What a lovely way to enter into a new year, by bridging from the old one on the structure of reflection.
What will you reflect on, this first day of the new year, this auspicious time versed in renewal? Interrupt your thoughts for a moment, let your memories, hopes and emotions be the guides. Let a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of wine (Apothic Red, if you prefer a recommendation) settle in with you at the table or on the couch if you like a festive mood.

For an hour my husband and I sat, long-stemmed glasses in hand, the hookah burning the fragrance of fruity tobacco throughout the living room bringing an ambience like a temple ripe with incense, and we looked back in order to look forward. We reflected on goals accomplished, those making progress, those that may need total revisions. We talked about gratitude and ties between people, what keeps us, as loving and energetic beings, going in this life. It was the most formal pause for reflection I’ve had in a long time and it was refreshing.

Recently, I began reading the book Life After Death–“A must read for everyone who will die,” according to Dr. Candace B. Pert, Ph.D.–by Deepak Chopra. I respect Dr. Chopra’s experiences and perspectives and have been reading his books and listening to his lectures for many years; I consider him full of great resources as a spiritual teacher. In Life After Death, Chopra describes how there are different planes of existence that are based on different frequencies of consciousness, explaining the earth to be a dense spiritual world and lokas, referred to in the Western culture as astral planes, as higher spiritual planes. Chopra states, “Every frequency in nature exists simultaneously, and yet we experience only what we see.” He goes on to describe telepathy, clairvoyance, spirits and souls. We exist on an earth where we don’t see or hear the overlapping of existence of the planes, most often, but they are there and quite often coexisting.

Whether you believe there is more to the complex structure our material and immaterial universe and beyond–up to and including senses beyond the basic five, the existence of planes, the quantum field theories speaking of the entire universe as made of vibrating fields that play ” a vast, subatomic symphony,” and spirits and souls–or you don’t, at least be aware that existence is vast and rich, it is more full than we are aware of, and consequently holds many opportunities as long as we are willing to relfect, seek, and act.

Happy 2014, and if it didn’t start out with happy don’t despair; even if it appears that the “bad” is all that is present, it is actually coexisting with all that is “good.” Rest assured, the good is accessible.

hope

*Photograph: http://fccowasso.com/hope-in-god/

Holidays are for Happy

PeaceOnEarth

It can be difficult to mix and match cultural, religious, and personal preferences during this December time of year when holiday traditions abound, especially in this Western part of the world where the majority of people with religious beliefs follow the Jewish and Christian belief systems. For those who are not religious, the secular society is also very attached to the Christmas season for its ideas of peace, magic, generosity, and family. Who can argue that a sense of magic and an unusual beauty exist this time of year, especially amidst all of the holiday lights strung over homes and throughout the public areas of cities, lighting our world in a way that just doesn’t happen other times of the year?

Certainly there are some who remain unmoved by the aesthetic qualities of the Christmas season, and others who could argue that reindeer, Santa Claus, penguin, snow globe, candy cane, and elf lawn decorations are unusually annoying, but that is their right and they can decide not to love holiday living as they wish. We all have our reasons for either loving, hating, or remaining indifferent to the holidays.

It can be an especially sensitive time of year, especially given the confusion over what to actually say to people this time of year; with more acceptance and sensitivity in society toward religious and cultural differences–which is a very good thing–it can be easy to get tripped up in deciding if “Have a Merry Christmas” (a definite Western tradition) is okay to say when thanking a cashier or postal carrier or chatting with a coworker, neighbor, or anyone really, or if they might fall more into the “Happy Hannukah,” “Happy Kwanzaa,” “Happy Yule,” or the non-religious or even non-holiday categories. We don’t want to inflict any offense on others and risk feeling rude and ignorant, or risk an evil eye in response that takes away a little of our own holiday cheer. So, very often, “Have a happy holiday!” suffices if we choose anything at all. It’s safe call.

The key words to the holiday greetings are happy and merry and peaceful. Whatever your beliefs or traditions are, whether you are a holiday practitioner or spend the day (and the season, roughly most of December) as any other, the wishes are for you to be happy, be merry, have peace. Go out of this year with a positive sense of life, and go into the upcoming year with that same positive sense.

This year marks the first Christmas/holiday/merry-peaceful season I am sharing with my family and my husband. We married in late January of this year, well after the menorahs, midnight Masses in Catholic churches, hymnals about the birth of Jesus Christ, yule logs, reindeer, Santa, wrapping paper, and cups full with eggnog had come and gone. Although I haven’t celebrated Christmas from a Christian perspective for many, many years (a perspective I still highly respect), my husband has never celebrated Christmas from this or any perspective. He hails from the Holy Lands–Jerusalem his place of birth–and so also has a compassionate respect for not only his faith of origin, Islam, but other faiths as well, especially the two other monotheistic religions of the Western world, Christianity and Judaism. He also knows of Papa Noel–the name for Santa Claus in the the Arabic culture–but not so much of the Grinch or of “going buckwild” (one of his favorite expressions) with the gift tradition.

He seemed a little nervous at first, and I felt a little nervous as well in not wanting him to be nervous. I didn’t want it to seem like I was trying to convert him into any buckwild holiday traditions that have been a consistent part of my life. I love gift-giving, and Christmas lights, and the religious Christmas music that has resonated with me emotionally since I was a child, and the otherworldliness of an evergreen tree (real or artificial) all lit up within your living area. I love the decorations overtaking homes and shopping centers and whole cities, and the holiday packaging on foods and drinks. I never asked him to get into it, I only asked that he wouldn’t mind a tree in the living room, some stockings on the wall for my daughter and the gerbil, and my personal favorite of finding gifts for the children of the family and my parents.

Thankfully, the holidays have that type of peacefulness and magic about them that make it easy for most people to adapt to. Not only has it been fun for him, but he even got a little buckwild with the idea of gift-giving and so I’ve wound up with (already, since he’s not so much accustomed with waiting until the morning of the 25th) a holiday/Christmas/merry-peaceful/loving gift or two straight from him. And he seemed secretly thrilled that I had one for him. After all, it’s never about materialism or what a gift is, it’s about, simply, having fun with each other.

The holiday season begs us to have fun, happiness, peace, and love with each other, and you really can’t go wrong with that. When the season is difficult and hurtful because you’ve lost someone, or lost a relationship, or in general are feeling lonely or out of sorts or even disagreeable with so-called holiday cheer, it’s quite alright to avoid making a big deal of the season, but if you really want to there are many people willing to open their hearts, homes, and arms to others to ensure the true “reason for the season” is passed along to others as it should be.

Nothing has to be made too difficult in life, especially those things that are meant to convey a sense of happiness, merriness, peace, and all around positivity. Holidays are for being happy, something everyone deserves.

*Picture courtesy of California Indian Education. http://www.californiaindianeducation.org/community/christmas/2010/PeaceOnEarth.gif

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Too?

Racism is a virus that is growing clever at avoiding detection. Race consciousness is real. Racial assumptions and prejudices are real. And racism is real. But these realities can operate without articulation and beneath awareness. For those reasons, some can see racism where it is absent, and others can willfully ignore any possibility that it could ever be present.–Charles M. Blow, NY Times columnist (I would add that this quote fits any form of prejudice, not only racism.)

We are many parts, we are all one body.–Verse from a Catholic Hymn

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a 1967 movie about a family in which the daughter of an upper-class white family brings home her fiance, a black physician, in a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in various states, and the family’s struggles to accept the relationship. The cinematic family has been conditioned, through the racist and segregated society of the times, to not accept the daughter’s love as an equal whom they would love to invite into their family, willingly taking him into their homes and hearts, let him sit in equality around the same table. The movie stars Sidney Poitier and Katharine Hepburn, and is worth the little over an hour-and-a-half it takes to watch.

Now we step into these days of the 2000s, where we have come so far. So far in breaking down the myths and hatred of prejudice that have over time allowed us to build up heavy walls around each other, with the notion that these walls are safety measures, their job to keep us safe from those different others. In reality, every prejudice we have against a group of “others” is a metaphorical apartheid wall that harms both “us” and “them” with its segregation as much as any true, physical, concrete wall built between groups of people.

We have come so far, but still need to keep going. A recent Cheerios commercial evidenced this when it received criticism–including hateful remarks in the realms of racism–simply because it featured a biracial couple enjoying their morning together; a black father, white mother, and their biracial daughter. In New York, nine recent victims of a particularly hideous crime against humanity which the perpetrators are calling a “game,” specifically the Knockout Game, have been Jewish. Although people of various races and cultures have been victims of this assault in cities throughout the United States, there is concern that the number of Jewish victims in New York is based in anti-Semitism. It may not be, but there is still anti-Semitism in the world, just as there is anti-white, anti-black, anti-anyone-anywhere.

It is a stubborn facet of the human condition wherever you go: we are still in need of protecting each other’s human rights fully, continuously, and with genuine compassion.

This is not a rant, just a nudge. This is not a judgment, just a request to look into yourself and see clearly how you relate to others, where your strengths and weaknesses are, where you are helping and where you might be hurting others. We all need nudges and times to reflect on our our actions.

And now for the post-9/11 world’s version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: my family has always been fine with the husband who now attends dinner with me, so there’s no issue there. I feel fortunate to be from a family with much cultural diversity, with “intermarriages” between this or that racial/ethnic background; it seems to make it easier for myself and for those in my family, and for others in similar families, to see compatibility among diverse people as nothing more than the usual nature of people, not as a cause for concern, fear, or hatred. Not as something out of place or strange. It’s difficult for me to comprehend how we can’t all see things this way, and I have at times been tempted to think that maybe some people are just “seeing racism where it doesn’t exist” too much–which can be tempting to think when you have never had prejudice directed at you, never felt the discomfort of being singled out simply for your genetic or cultural origins. But I have now had a lesson in prejudice on a personal basis, and see how it is alive and well in modern days. It has been a good lesson, eye-opening and inspiring, prompting me to continue reaching out to others by joining in with peacebuilding and coexistence efforts as much as possible.

I had never had the experience before of being harassed in a prejudiced way at any point in my life. Not for being white (which is mostly my heritage background and my coloring, I am a pale and green-eyed 3/4 German, Irish, Polish woman who is also 1/4 Mexican), not for being Polish or Irish or German or Mexican, not for being Russian (which I’m not at all but, for some reason, people have often guessed that I am), not for being Catholic or Midwestern, not because my family lacked financial wealth and luxury cars and not because my family was financially stable enough to send three children to private school, own two cars, and own a house. Nothing. Prejudice was not an experience I knew other than through compassionate instincts when hearing about or seeing it affecting others.

The post-9/11 Western world. Many people in the West were interested in learning about the differences between themselves and the stated Muslim fundamentalist enemies. They wanted to know who the Muslims are and who the Arabs are in order to differentiate between the “regular” people–regular here as all those people who live like anyone else in the majority–and the terrorists. John L. Esposito, a Georgetown University professor of Religion, International Affairs, and Islamic Studies, and an Italian-American Catholic, says it well in his book Who Speaks for Islam? when he explains that Islamic fundamentalists make up merely a “fraction of a fraction” of Muslims. Consider that there are about 1 billion Muslims on this earth; consider, if Islam were the problem, or Arab Muslims, how much more pronounced the problem would be. Consider how the majority, the great and vast majority of all Muslims, including Arab Muslims, are just living the way anyone else is: waking in the morning, showering, having a breakfast, going to work, going to school, taking care of their families, watching movies, running, laughing, buying groceries, planting gardens, sleeping and dreaming and figuring out the best ways to spend their time in this life. Nothing more.

Media does strange things, however, and when you combine lack of awareness with negative and unbalanced media stories, it’s a perfect mix for increasing fears which increases prejudice and hate and, at worst, hateful actions.

Some quotes from my experience, and although maybe it shouldn’t, it amazes me that these are true quotes: Your husband is Muslim, and Arab? So, he’s in Al Qaeda? You converted to Islam? Your husband either threatened to beat you or leave you if you didn’t, right? (It wouldn’t matter had I converted before or after meeting him, but it was before, and my decision alone.) Don’t go overseas with your husband, they like to marry American women to take back to the Middle East and sell into sex slavery. Don’t go to your husband’s homeland, they won’t like you because you’re American and they’ll probably end up stoning you to death, or kidnapping you. When wearing the hijab–the Muslim headscarf–in public, I’ve heard shouts of raghead, sandnigger, terrorist, Go back to your own country! (Already here, that was a short trip!), and once, while shopping at Kohl’s, a fellow shopper walking somewhere behind me remarked loudly to her companion, “I didn’t know they let terrorists shop here.” Which I felt was a good time to turn around, appearing frightened, and exclaim, “Oh my God, me neither!”

These experiences are in the minority for me; like the percentage of Muslim terrorists, they are a fraction of a fraction of others’ reactions to Muslims, to me, to my husband, and to the love my husband and I have between each other as American Westerner and Arab Middle Easterner. Most people who have heard my husband is from the lands of Palestine/Israel are interested in knowing more about his homeland. Most people who have been compelled to comment on my hijab have done so to ask questions about it or compliment it. Some have gotten large, welcoming smiles upon seeing me approach and have even held doors open for me, possibly for the image of holiness one might say the headscarf can create–I have been asked a few times if I happen to be a nun.

Most people on this earth are eager to be kind and act in goodness toward others, I believe this fully. And for those who aren’t and don’t, I am sure there are a number of reasons to the psychology of why they act in the negative ways they do. Prejudice is always fear-based, always starting in a fear we have for how the differences of others might affect us. Taking the initiative to meet with others so that you can understand them more as people just like yourself is among the easiest ways to start building more peace among everyone.

The comments I have received are from people I am not willing to judge. While their choices of action aren’t healthy or helpful in keeping the world a peaceful, accepting place where all can thrive knowing their universal rights to life are protected, they are likely perfectly respectable human beings who simply need to improve their awareness of others to decrease any fears they have of any type of person. The hurtful, harassing, fearful reactions have also inspired me to look at how I treat others, testing whether or not I am living up to my standard of making the world a better place through kindness and acceptance, My promise to myself and the world I share with everyone else: I will always strive to live up to this standard, because every tiny fragment of kindness adds to the great, big whole of positive healing energy in this world.

*Who is going to sit with you for dinner, or who will you sit with? Hopefully, the only thing that will affect this decision is the fact the person is good and kind and you can bring meaning into each others’ lives.

****
Meanwhile, in other parts of the animal kingdom, it seems hamsters are next in line for risk of stereotyping:

terrorist hamster

Simple Peace of Mind Technique

Peaceful-Mind

Simple Peace of Mind Technique:

*When you wake and open your eyes, before sitting up, before getting to your feet and leaving your bed (or couch or futon or floor), take slow breaths, fully, inhale and exhale. Start with a count of three breaths–the “cleansing” breaths.

*Let your mind clear.

*Push out the thoughts that jump in right away to start dictating the day to you in schedules and responsibilities and this and that.

*Once clear, attached to no specific thoughts, say thank you in your mind. Picture everyone and everything you are thankful for. Say thank you a few times, a dozen, as many as you choose.

*Smile and notice how smiling makes you feel.

*Three more cleansing breaths, full-inhale and full-exhale, and then sit up.

*Stand and start your day, all that you have to do, and notice how well this positive energy stays with you when you let it in first thing.