Lay Down, Build Up

Lay Down – Build Up

Epiphany 25-26


A common cry throughout the history of the world has been the call to lay down arms.  In other words, stop fighting.  The quote “War is hell” has been attributed to General William Tecumseh Sherman, although he himself claimed to not remember saying it.  David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace, authors of the series “The People’s Almanac” explain: Historians generally agree that this is Sherman’s statement on war, but the Civil War general could not remember ever having said these three words. Before his death in 1891, Sherman made an extensive search through all of his private papers in a fruitless effort to convince himself that the words were actually his. There are several accounts of when the words were said. The earliest version dates back to 1863, after the fall of Vicksburg, when Sherman’s troops were crossing a pontoon bridge over the Pearl River at Jackson, Miss. According to eyewitness John Koolbeck, a soldier from Iowa, Sherman watched the crossing from the water’s edge and then said to the passing troops, “War is hell, boys.” Another account has Sherman delivering the line in a graduation address at the Michigan Military Academy on June 19, 1879. Still a third account says that Sherman made the famous statement in a speech before a group of Union veterans in Columbus, O., on Aug. 11, 1880. At other times, he did state, “War is cruel and you cannot refine it” and “War at best is barbarism.”


The bearing of a weapon greatly increases the likelihood that said weapon will be used.  Hateful words spoken aloud greatly increases the chance that uttered hatred will spread.  History bears witness to the truth of those two statements.  Usually, religion is given as the cause for such things like war.  Within the last two thousand years, the three Abrahamic faiths have been the culprits and there is evidence that they have contributed even though was is not a part of any religion’s doctrine.


Those who claim that isolation and violence are the path towards goodness are walking blindly.  It is with much sadness and anger that I must admit the events of this past weekend at US airports will be forever linked to Christianity.  People with legal documentation that gave them the right to travel to and in the USA have been held up and prevented from arrival.  Claiming to be laying down arms while beefing up security, a new regime has hijacked both the US Constitution and the Christian faith.


How do I make such a bold statement?  Matthew 25:31-46 from the New Testament is my proof.  “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the 3holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’  Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’  Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’  Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’”


Borgna Brunner explains how Islam actually has two holidays that reference helping others, the building up of each other.  Eid al-Fitr (1 Shawwal)is the Celebration concluding Ramadan, the month of fasting.  Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the “Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations (Eid al-Adha is the other). At Eid al-Fitr people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, and enjoy visits with friends and family.  A sense of generosity and gratitude colors these festivities. Although charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, they have special significance at the end of Ramadan. As the month draws to a close, Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.


Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Adult Muslims are expected to make at least once in their lifetime.  Eid al-Adha (10 Dhu’l-Hijjah) is the celebration concluding the Hajj.  Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice, commemorates the prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey Allah by sacrificing his son Ishmael. According to the Quran, just before Abraham sacrificed his son, Allah replaced Ishmael with a ram, thus sparing his life. One of the two most important Islamic festivals, Eid al-Adha begins on the 10 day of Dhu’l-Hijja, the last month of the Islamic calendar. Lasting for three days, it occurs at the conclusion of the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca. Muslims all over the world celebrate, not simply those undertaking the hajj, which for most Muslims is a once-a-lifetime occurrence.  The festival is celebrated by sacrificing a lamb or other animal and distributing the meat to relatives, friends, and the poor. The sacrifice symbolizes obedience to Allah and its distribution to others is an expression of generosity, one of the five pillars of Islam.


“Tzedakah” is the Hebrew word for the acts that we call “charity” in English: giving aid, assistance and money to the poor and needy or to other worthy causes. However, the nature of tzedakah is very different from the idea of charity. The word “charity” suggests benevolence and generosity, a magnanimous act by the wealthy and powerful for the benefit of the poor and needy. The word “tzedakah” is derived from the Hebrew root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness. In Judaism, giving to the poor is not viewed as a generous, magnanimous act; it is simply an act of justice and righteousness, the performance of a duty, giving the poor their due.  Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need. Some sages have said that tzedakah is the highest of all commandments, equal to all of them combined, and that a person who does not perform tzedakah is equivalent to an idol worshipper. This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the importance of tzedakah in Jewish thought. Tzedakah is one of the three acts that gain us forgiveness from our sins.


Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon went one step further in explaining how such charity should be given, a hierarchy of learning how to give.  Giving begrudgingly is the first step, followed by giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully. Giving after being asked and giving before being asked follow.  Then there is giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity and giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity.  After a while, giving becomes the important thing, not being known for giving as in giving when neither party knows the other’s identity.  Finally, at the top is the true purpose for tzedakah which enables the recipient to become self-reliant.


When we lay down our hatred and weapons, we are then able to build each other up through the Christian, Jewish, and Islam paths of charity and generosity.  War with its many forms and variations is cruel and does little to build for the future.  Evil should be stopped but we are an intelligent race.  Surely we can figure a way to create peace and a better tomorrow with mercy and goodness.



Fear… and Trust

Fear … and Trust

Epiphany 24


Atheists claim that most religion is based upon fear.  Psychologists see fear as a deterrent in keeping us from understanding ourselves and our neighbors.  Fear serves a purpose but that purpose is to keep us alive, not make us crawl into a hole and never come out.  Much like studying history, we can learn a great deal if we analyze our fear.


I consider myself a religious person.  For me, my religion is not just a compass by which I live but is the core of my spirituality.  Many see religion as being in competition with spirituality but for me, if one lives both as completely as possible, they go hand in hand.  Religion may give me an outline with which to live and perhaps some reasons for doing so but it is the spiritual connection I have with that outline that give its meaning and purpose.  My fears do much the same for me…when they are based upon reality and not imagination or ego. 


University of Massachusetts-Boston economist Julie Nelson argues that the experience of fear has become highly gendered, a problem that she applies to theory and practice in the field of economics. Men learn to fear because they associate such emotions with a dangerous lack of control over the self and world. In her words, “Since bodies are far more vulnerable, mortal, and messy than the pure Cartesian cogito, contemplation of the feminine-associated aspects of human life may create anxiety”.   To avoid this, men gravitate away from the emotional world of fear and anxiety toward a more analytical and objective one in which logic rules over feelings.  The danger of fearing fear, Nelson suggests, is that in their economic thinking, men prefer not to seem “risk averse.” It’s permissible, in this societal context, for women to base their decisions on the fear of negative outcomes, but men who do so may be perceived as weak or unmanly. When economic markets develop around men’s desire not to look risk averse, those markets become more likely to crash and burn, as happened in the late 2000’s.


Susan Krauss Whitbourne is a Psychologist who offers some sound advice when it comes to dealing with our fears.  “Separate your own insecurities from the actual threats that the people in your life present to you. Not only will you feel better, but your relationships with those people will benefit, as well.”   All too often the perceived threats that create our fear are just our own insecurities rearing up.


I can promise you that no one living in a bombed out hole in Syria has kept you from advancing in your workplace.  They are too busy trying to stay alive.  No one proclaiming bombs are the tools of Allah is quoting the Quran correctly either.  I am not an Islamic scholar but Islam is not a religion of fear.  Neither is Judaism or Christianity.  As we read in yesterday’s blog post, all three proclaim we are to love our neighbors and not fear them.  They also define neighbor as pretty much every other living, breathing human being on the planet.


When we build relationships, trust grows.  Trust is the anecdote to fear.  The key is to take the time and invest on those relationships.  Fear may seem to keep you alive for the short-term but trust is the key to longevity.  In 1967 a television host named Fred Rodgers wrote a song he used in the opening of his children’s program.  “It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood, a neighborly day for a beauty, would you be mine? Could you be mine?  I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you; I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.  So let’s make the most of this beautiful day, since we’re together, we might as well say, would you be mine? Could you be mine? Won’t you be my neighbor? “


Fear is not a productive way to live and over the long-term serves no real purpose.  Trusting each other, however, is the key to not only good relationships but building a better world.  We really are all neighbors.  It is time to stop fearing and start living with trust.




Embrace and Tolerate

Embrace and Tolerate

Epiphany 23


Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”  He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”  “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”  Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”


The above paragraph was in a post I received on Facebook from a young man of strength and character.  This paragraph has become the topic of the world news because of recent events occurring in the United States.  The man elected in part with the support of conservative religious groups seems to have forgotten this part of faith – all faiths.


In times where terrorism seems to occur several times a day in some part of the world and several times a year in others, fear is an understandable reaction.  Fear responses are our body’s defense system.  It serves as a reminder to act – not to hate.  We take cover during a storm because our body fears the consequences.  We use medicines productively to combat illness because our body is telling us something needs attention.  When used appropriately, fear can serve great purpose.


To hate one’s neighbor, though, is not productive and none of the world’s top religions encourage it although they all speak of it.  “Looking for a loophole, the scholar asked, “And just how would you define your ‘neighbor’?”  In other words, who do we embrace, loving them as ourselves?


We all have had neighbors with whom we were not friendly.  It is inevitable that at some point in time our neighbors will not share our interests or respect for boundaries, play loud music, push their leaves onto our yard, etc.  In some settlements, the neighbors have guns aimed at the houses.  How on earth are we supposed to embrace these people?  Surely they are not our true neighbors.  Or are they?


“Worship Allah and associate nothing with Him, and to parents do good, and to relatives, orphans, the needy, the near neighbor, the neighbor farther away, the companion at your side…”.   This quote is from the Quran, 4:36.  Islam speaks highly of the one who not only sees their neighbor and embraces them but also tolerates them and treats them with respect.


“The Scale of Wisdom” is a collection of sayings of the Prophet Mohammed and the Twelve Imams compiled by M. Muhammadi Rayshahri.  “It is to help him if he asks your help, to lend him if he asks to borrow from you, to satisfy his needs if he becomes poor, to console him if he is visited by an affliction, to congratulate him if is met with good fortune, to visit him if he becomes ill, to attend his funeral if he dies, not to make your house higher than his without his consent lest you deny him the breeze, to offer him fruit when you buy some or to take it to your home secretly if you do not do that, nor to send out your children with it so as not to upset his children, nor to bother him by the tempting smell of your food unless you send him some.”


What does the Torah say about loving one’s neighbor?  “Do not take revenge and do not bear a grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God.”   This passage from Leviticus 19:18 is important as is the Jewish definition of love.  Judaism defines love as “the emotional pleasure of identifying virtues in another person.”   It is not seen as an act of fate nor a physical pleasure but a deliberate embracing of another and a purposeful identification of their existence.


The third of the world’s largest religion is Christianity, the third of the Abrahamic faiths.  Scripture for this topic is found in many places in the Christian Bible but it appears first in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew, in the twenty-second chapter.  To the question at the end of our first paragraph, the man known as Jesus of Nazareth gave this answer earlier in this book.  Matthew 5:43 states: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. 


 Later in that same book, Matthew 22:36 we find this:  “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.   And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  We are to embrace all and tolerate them.  In Islam this is illustrated by not having your house higher than your neighbors so as to prevent him from the breeze.  In Judaism, it is to recognize that we are all different but those differences have value.  In Christianity it is to allow that your enemy is still your brother and sister as children of the Creator and should be treated as you would wish to be treated.


Who is the neighbor you are to embrace and tolerate?  The person who is standing beside you, the person standing halfway around the world, the person who looks nothing like you or whose speech is unfamiliar because they exist and are, therefore, your neighbor.  We should embrace and tolerate.  To do anything else is to live a lie and hasten the end.  This is not political or even religious.  It is simply good common sense.







Epiphany 22


Step outside your comfort zone is a common piece of advice.  However, when it involves stepping outside the box, we tend to think twice about that advice.  The screensaver on my telephone, a quote by Albert Einstein, references this dilemma.  “The one who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd.  The one who walks alone is likely to find him/herself in places no one has ever been before.”


When we explore we truly live.  We need to be a traveler through our life, not merely a tourist.  “Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what is right in front of you.  Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in,” advices Andrew Zimmern. 


If all we ever encounter is what we already have seen or know, then we gain nothing.  It is scary to go explore.  I completely and totally understand that and yet, when we refuse to do so, we limit ourselves and shrink our potential and our world. 


The weekend is upon us.  What will you explore?  It doesn’t have to be trudging up the side of Mount Kilimanjaro.  You don’t need to tightrope across the Grand Canyon or go wingsuit flying.  Explore your neighborhood and this time, don’t just walk past your neighbors, share a smile or greeting.  Explore your local library or park.  Offer to help out at a local soup kitchen or learn a new craft hobby.  You can even explore your own closet and renew with old friends via forgotten photographs or catch up on Facebook.


The world is so much larger than the field of our own vision or our own opinions.  Take a chance and wander through your home and see things you’ve forgotten.  Then go explore your town.  Forego that fancy restaurant and eat at the local mall in the food court.  This time, though, really see who else is around you.  Chances are you’ll see a small child exploring and dreaming.  We should take a lesson from the children and discover life.


Tomorrow do something you always do but approach it from a different perspective.  The years is in dispute, whether 1907 or 1923, but at some point a guy working part-time as a soda jerk (ice cream vendor for those of you unfamiliar with the term) decided to explore what he was serving.  Instead of making the typical ice cream sundae, a scoop or two of ice cream with some syrup and whipped cream, he explored his options.  Suddenly the banana split was born with three scoops of different flavors of ice cream, two or three types of syrup, whipped cream, nuts, and a cherry on top.  The world has enjoyed this delectable concoction ever since,  because a young man decided to explore his options.


H. Jackson Brown sums it up best.   “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”



Epiphany  21


At a time when most people need to cool down and stop spreading the hateful, nonproductive rhetoric that marked the last eighteen months of political mudslinging in the USA and now worldwide, it might seem strange that I am encouraging you to feel.


I sincerely hope I get some responses to this question:  How do you feel?  I am not asking just about how you feel regarding the political verbiage.  I am asking how you feel… in general and specifically.  How do you feel?  It really is not a trick question.  Nor is it a complex one.  How do you feel?


Feelings are important.  The University of Wisconsin encourages students to consider their feelings as a barometer of their own health and emotional well-being.  “Feelings provide essential information about our reactions to situations. They are often our best clue to the meaning of our current experience — they are less “processed” and more “raw” than our thoughts. They can provide accurate feedback on our current “inside” state.”


Eckhart Tolle explains the important of our feelings this way.  “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind – or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger. The body is getting ready to fight. The thought that you are being threatened, physically or psychologically, causes the body to contract, and this is the physical side of what we call fear. Research has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. These biochemical changes represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion.”


Emotional competency is a popular phrase that is trending right now and learning to recognize the emotions of others as well as ourselves helps build strong relationships.  That brings me to my intention with today’s post.  How are you feeling?  And why do you not realize others are feeling those same emotions?


We all experience the same feelings.  Perhaps not at the same time and not in the same consequential fashion but we all experience the same emotions.  At some point we have all felt happy, sad, proud, scared, jealous, hopeful, envious, sorry, tired, exasperated, sympathetic, upset, overjoyed, angry, elated, relieved, grateful, bored, excited….. The list could go on and on.  We all feel the exact same way although not at the exact same time.  Why?  Because we really are, at our core, similar. 


Some might argue that not all of these are emotions.  Some would characterize them as mental states of being.  In the 1991 book, “Emotion and Adaptation”, author Richard Lazarus lists several mental states that may be emotion related, but are not themselves actual emotions. The list includes the complex states of: grief and depression; the ambiguous positive states of: expansiveness, awe, confidence, challenge, determination, satisfaction, and being pleased; the ambiguous negative states of: threat, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, meaningless, and awe; the mental confusion states of bewilderment and confusion; the arousal states of: excitement, upset, distress, nervousness, tension, and agitation; and finally the pre-emotions of: interest, curiosity, amazement, anticipation, alertness, and surprise.


Again, we all experience those very same mental states of being.  Why?  Because they are related to our emotions, the very same emotions we all experience.  So how does this affect our action this Epiphany season?  After all, most word used to describe emotions are adjectives, not verbs.  It is relevant because our emotions often affect and determine our actions.  More importantly, when we criticize others for their feelings, we limit our right to experience those very same feelings.


No one is so good that they should not experience sadness and we all, at some point in time, will.  Even the bravest of us have felt fear and I sincerely hope that we all have hope.  My wish is that I get back hundreds of responses telling me people felt happy, relief, joy, gratitude, etc. but the reality is that some today experienced grief, uncertainty, or pain.  Life is not easy.  Not all feelings are going to be positive.


“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? …As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”  This passage from Cornelia Funke’s book “Inkspell” refers to reading a book but I think it applies to our feelings.


Feelings broaden our perspective and when we allow others to have those very same feelings, we broaden our world.  We begin to see that the world is not made up of many different people but of different variations of ourselves.  The outside packaging might look very different but each is a version of one, at different stages.  When we learn to respond to the pain of others, listen to their feelings, then we can begin to be together, truly together, living in peace and harmony. 



Epiphany 20


Growth is living.  We all evolve from our life experiences but how do we turn those experiences into positive change?  How do we avoid the anxiety that living inevitably creates?  How do we focus on the good, learn from the bad, and move forward productively?  IF what George Lucas says is true – “Always remember; your focus is your reality”, how do we create a better reality for the future?


In his book “The Light in the Heart”, Roy T. Bennet offers this advice:  “Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.  Focus on your character, not your reputation.  Focus on your blessings, not your misfortunes.”  Great advice but exactly how do we do that?


Socrates believed “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new.”  Mindfulness is defined as the state of active, open attention on the present, maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, and environment in the absolute present.  Many believe it to be the first step towards what Socrates termed “building the new”.


A recent study conducted by Georgetown University as a clinical trial for the National Institutes of Health involved eighty-nine patients and yielded some interesting results on how what is our focus can determine what our future becomes.  It also afforded insights into better living of the present.  Testing and scientifically proving the reported benefits of mindfulness meditation, including longer attention span, pain management, support overcoming addiction, and lowered blood pressure, has been a challenge, even though people have been practicing the technique for thousands of years.


“Many prior tests of meditation-based therapies have compared a meditation group to an untreated control group. Because participants in such studies are not ‘blinded’—they know if they are getting treatment or not—they are likely to be influenced by the placebo effect and other forms of expectancy bias,” a press release regarding this clinical trial stated. It was believed that the way the study was designed eliminated any participant bias toward a particular treatment being tested. 


Currently, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness diagnosed in the United States, and affect 40 million adults, or 18 percent of the country’s population.  A person who suffers from anxiety will often focus on future prospects and become overwhelmed with fear that everything will turn out badly. These feelings can restrict a person’s ability to work, maintain relationships, or leave the house. The condition also may come with side effects that resemble health disorders, such as sweating, shaking, increased heart rate, bowel issues, and hyperventilation.  “Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” said lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge, MD. 


A 2013 article in Psychology Today offered six quick mindfulness exercises anyone can do.  First, take two mindful bites.  Instead of attempting to do mindful eating all the time, try mindful eating for the first two bites of any meal or snack.  For the first two bites of any meal or snack you eat, pay attention to the sensory experiences – the texture, taste, smell, and appearance of the food, and the sounds when you bite into your food.  Pay attention to your sensory experience in an experiential rather than evaluative way and do not concentrate on the actual flavor. 


Secondly, pay attention to what one breath feels like.  After all, breathing is one of the most essential parts of our day.  Feel the sensations of one breath flowing into and out from your body. Notice the sensations in your nostrils, your shoulders, your rib cage, your belly etc.  Next, take a mindful moment to give your brain a break instead of checking your email.  Look out a window and notice the grass or leaves.  Check out your environment rather than that inbox full of emails. 


The fourth exercise is to be mindful of the air around you, the air touching your skin.   Pay attention to the feeling of air on your skin for 10-60 seconds.  This is best done when wearing short sleeves or with some skin exposed but if you are wearing long sleeve, roll them up just above the wrists.  When you do this, you are experiencing the air in an experiential processing mode as opposed to evaluative “judging” mode, which is our usual default.  Remember, this mindfulness exercise is about experiencing, not judging.


Next, look at your body from top to toe, noticing any sensations of discomfort or tension. Attempt to soften any sensations of discomfort. Next, scan your body for any sensations of comfort or ease.  Focus on the sensations of comfort and ease.  Don’t spend a great deal of time on this but do recognize both the negative and the positive.


Lastly, consider something you do every day, some action that you do each and every single day.  Perhaps it is opening a newspaper or brushing your hair.  Consider that action and focus on it.  Maybe it will be that first sip of coffee in the morning.  Whatever it is, focus on it mindfully and be in that moment.  When you are doing that, you aren’t worrying about that busy schedule that will hit you as you walk out the door.  By turning your focus to the delightful smell of your cup and anticipating that taste of coffee or by concentrating on how the bristles of your brush are massaging your scalp as you brush your hair, your body will relax and your anxiety level will drop.


According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, Mindfulness is the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment — without interpretation or judgment.  Spending too much time planning, problem-solving, daydreaming, or thinking negative or random thoughts can be draining. It can also make you more likely to experience stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression. Practicing mindfulness exercises, on the other hand, can help you direct your attention away from this kind of thinking and engage with the world around you.  More importantly, you will turn your focus on yourself in a positive non-narcissistic manner, reconnecting with your essence and nurturing yourself.





Epiphany 19


The French Essayist Albert Camus once said that “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.”  I realize that “ridiculous” is not technically a verb and we are supposed to be discussing actions words or verbs in this series.  However, it can be a state of being so I ask you understanding as we discuss it.


Jonathan Mead has a few thoughts on this topic.  “Ridiculous people have something figured out that other people haven’t quite grasped. They wear a subtle, almost undetectable smirk that makes you think they’re about to make some kind of mischief. They probably are. Mischief is what they like best.  The truth is, ridiculous people aren’t ridiculous at all; they just seem that way to the people that are always trying to be serious. They seem unruly and careless because they’re not following the common template. They are obviously out of line, and that is most alarming to the serious tribe.”


Ridiculous is a perception and often it is perceived to be wrong.  What if the so-called ridiculous was actually the correct thing, the authentic way to live?  Just imagine that someone finally figures out that everything trending was really useless.  What would happen then?  “Reality is a dream that someone was brave enough to conquer”, according to Shannon Adler.


Too often people follow the leader.  If you are hiking up a steep cliff with only a four-inch path, then following the leader is a great thing.  When we are on life’s journey, though, we need to follow our soul’s dream, not whatever some ambiguous “they” has decided is the correct thing to do… or wear… or think.


Take chance and be ridiculous.  Wear your hat backward or select a striking color of shirt instead of that same old light blue you always wear.  Be bold in your living.  More important, be authentic and if authentic means being ridiculous….Have a great time being you!







Epiphany 18


This past weekend over two million women worldwide walked.  Called the Women’s March, many felt moved to participate because of conflicting ideals with a new administration.  Many marched because they feared the loss of freedoms and rights.  Others marched as a show of solidarity for women.  Some walked simply because they could.  They donned pink hats and walked, marched, or simple gathered to support women, wearing pink hats and carrying signs.


“In the end, our success in resolving conflict and affecting deep change is not made by focusing on the leading figure of our discontent, but rather on the much less visible number of women and men who form his or her base of support. While it may be tempting to focus our attention on the leader, waiting for and pouncing on his every misstep and falter, in the long run our most effective response will be in how well we do at the hard work of creating a new solidarity with those who see the situation so differently than we. A good reminder of this fact is in considering how we came to this crossroads in the first place; the responsibility is not the Russians alone, but our own: we got in this situation partly by overlooking the need to reassure some of our good neighbors that they were needed and valued. Taking human hearts for granted can be a costly mistake and not one to be made twice. So while we may be mesmerized by what goes on in Washington, D.C., it would do us well to be even more active in communities farther afield. Building bridges there could be the ethical and political infrastructure we need for winning the next series of crucial elections. The question is not how many in the inner circle are hearing us shout, since they will be largely deaf to our appeal, but instead how many of those who put them there are hearing us in quieter conversations all across America. Success will be measured not by how many of our own we can put in the streets, but even more importantly, by how many women and men in the rust belt will be willing to wear a pink hat the next time around.”  These words by retired Episcopal bishop Steven Charleston bring us to my point and our verbs for today.


What comes after we have walked?  What comes after we take a stand for a cause or ideal?  The answer is life, that forward progression of steps we make each day that, eventually, will comprise the journey of a lifetime.  You see, getting your dander up for a good cause is great but that can only last for a certain amount of time.  How do we live those ideals for which we marched?


Sometimes the conflict is not so much about the other guy but about our response and the manner in which we respond.  It is so much more fun and easy to get mad and stay mad but seriously, unless you do jumping jacks or some other exercise in your anger, getting mad really accomplishes very little.  Real, long-lasting action requires thought and – gulp – reconciliation. 


Reconciliation starts with understanding.  First we need to admit and understand that there are other points of view.  No matter how wrong or ill-conceived we may judge them to be, they do exist.  Generally speaking, many have as valid a right to be felt as do our own.  Those incorrect beliefs that are wrong, as in harmful or illegal, need to be understood and explained.  Appeasement does not always mean acceptance and that is something to remember. 


No one person is a god or even a demi-god.  We all are human beings and deserve equal respect and opportunity to survive and thrive.  Some of our steps need to be toward building bridges to carry us all into a productive and efficient future.  That is the best march of all.




Epiphany 17


The page was blank and the possibilities endless.  What would be created when the color was applied to the page?  Would a flower slowly appear?  Perhaps it would be the profile of a loved one?  Maybe splotches of color would reflect the vibrancy of life.


“I will have me a symphony of coloring. I will enmesh me in the noon sun’s gold and wind about me the moonlight’s silver sheen. I will dream in a gown made of the haze of a summer evening twilight, and I will have robe on robe of the sky’s deep blue, and I will line them with clouds of ermine, and from their trailing folds red stars will gleam. I will pluck the green from the treetops, where wild birds nest and sing, and in the weaving I will ensnare a song. And when Sorrow is my guest, I will wear a gown made of the cold, gray mist.”  Muriel Strode Lieberman certainly saw the vibrancy of life as she related life experiences to colors.


Robert Fulghum also used colors in speaking of living.  “Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon. – a happiness weapon;   a Beauty Bomb.  It would explode high in the air – explode softly – and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air.  Floating down to earth – boxes of crayons. … And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one… And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination.”


Writer, poet, and artist Jay (nickname for Julia) Woodman also knows the value of coloring.  “Colour outside the lines, live outside the box. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do, or not. Don’t be afraid, listen to your heart.  Heaven is a state of being – of one-ness, and Hell is a state of being – lost. We simply need to live as we best define ourselves, find our own ways of being who we are in our world.


“There is no requirement – only freedom of choice. We should not be judged if we are doing what we think best according to our perceptions at any given time.  Guilt should be discarded, moved beyond – what matters is who we choose to be in the next moment, given what we might have learned. We continually create ourselves anew.  “Forgiving someone is a great way to show love, and forgive yourself too for the hurt you held onto far too long.  Take back the energy you have wasted on these things and reclaim your power to be your next best self.  Honor the past but refresh.”


When we color, we are building on the past in order to create something new, something for the future.  We begin with a blank page or possibly an outline.  We can color within the lines but also outside of them.  Maybe we do this by ignoring the set path or by using imaginative colors.    The fact is the future is ours to create.  Beauty without color should not exist in your world.  Crayons, paints, pastels…These are all magical dream sticks.  Pick one up today and begin to color your future.  It will be a masterpiece!

Believing in the Impossible

Believing in the Impossible

Epiphany 16


“There is no man living that cannot do more than he thinks he can.”  Henry Ford was living proof of his quote and yesterday a man was elected to the presidency of the United States who proved that as well.  This will not be a political post.  It is about encouraging us all to stop outside of any box someone or we have placed ourselves in and try.  Attempt the impossible… because it just might happen.


There is really only way one to make the impossible happen and that is to believe it can.  You must believe in the possibility of the impossible becoming possible.  And no, I have not gone crazy or am trying to win a bet using the word possible or its variations as many times as I can in one sentence.  Lewis Carrol wrote of this in his “Alice in Wonderland.” 


“Alice laughed.  ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said. ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’  ‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


In his autobiography “The Crack-Up”, F. Scott Fitzgerald speaks of this.  “Before I go on with this short history, let me make a general observation– the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.  One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible,” come true.”


Ah but the book is titled “The Crack-Up” you might be thinking.  Isn’t is crazy to believe the impossible to be possible?  After all, they are contradictory terms.  Yes they are.  Perhaps the true question of value is “Are those terms factual?”  In fact, is it even possible to define something as impossible?


Sigmund Freud once said “It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement — that they seek power, success and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.”  We might inquire of Dr. Freud by what standard of measurement would he define the impossible.


History is full of impossible things becoming possible.  Last year during this season of Epiphany we discussed people who had their own great epiphanies and invented new things, some of which would have been deemed impossible at one time.  They were people who attempted the impossible or unknown and not only made it possible but also known and popular, used in everyday life.


Believe that you are weak and you will be.  Believe that you are forever handicapped and you will never thrive.  Lee Wise wrote a really powerful sentence about this.  “Belief in what matters most holds the power of creating legacies that matter most in the long run.”  I believe in you and your power to live a life of intention, a life that will better the world … for you, for me, and for tomorrow.