Begin each day with a grateful heart.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Sunday, January 20, 2013
Change. It is in the air.
It could be seeing the first green shoots of the daffodils poking up through the soil.
It might have been the powerful university presentation given by an animal activist that I watched last weekend, calling for people to become aware of the cruelty that is being inflicted on living and breathing animals every single day.
Then again, it could have been the documentary Half the Sky that I also watched last weekend. A documentary based on the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by husband and wife journalists, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Both are New York Time reporters and Pulitzer Prize winners. Their efforts bring to light the very real lives and plight of women and girls in countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Sierra Leone, India, Kenya, and Somaliland. While the stories might often include very difficult issues like rape, violence, sex trafficking, slavery, abuse, genital mutilation and so on, both Nicholas and Sheryl find those who are working to change these things. They look for the stories that while sometimes hard to hear, can also be incredibly inspiring when one witnesses that there are those determined to change things for the better.
There are also all the inauguration events this weekend happening in our country's capitol. A President who won his first election based on a platform promising change will again take his presidential vows. Along with being aware of this Saturday being a National Day of Service, there is also the remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who will remembered in history as a remarkable agent of change.
I know that my own heart can grow heavy when I hear of things like sex trafficking, senseless gun violence, horrific rapes and violence, abuse and neglect of children and the list goes on. As a person who has an affinity for animals and who made the decision to eat vegan almost 5 years ago, I also feel for animals that are treated with unnecessary cruelty.
Just the other day I also watched the trailer for the film Vanishing of the Bees, which is narrated by youthful actress Ellen Page. Talk about a disturbing situation that could have dire consequences for the planet. This of course leads to environmental concerns, global warming, genetically modified foods and the list goes on and on.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by it all?
I know I have on many occasions.
I think it is common to hear of these issues in the world and for some of us there is a desire to want to help to change things for the better. We want to know how can we help? How can we make a difference?
I also think that too often we really don't know what we can do to help and we end up feeling helpless. We might be unsure of how our abilities and skills could be put to use.
The solution might be simpler than we imagine. Consider this quote by inspirational Aung San Suu Kyi, "When you feel helpless, help someone."
The answer might be for us to simplify things at first. The first step might be to take a look at our current life and identify what changes we could make in our own lives first that would empower us to more capably serve and help others.
The first set of questions to ask are: What is your relationship with yourself? Do you feel good? Are you healthy? Do you feel at peace within your own person? Are there any issues going on with you that need to be addressed first? Are there any addictions or unhealthy habits that have been adopted that you must face? Are there wounds, even childhood ones, that need to be dealt with and hopefully healed for you to become your most empowered self? Would counseling or therapy be a course of action to help you work through things?
Perhaps leaning into one's spiritual or religious practice is what one needs to get centered. It might include a meditation practice, journal writing, creative expression, painting, writing prose or poetry, sculpting, or dancing. All of these things that let you get in touch with your soul and that give you joy and instill in you a love of life, are those things that can increase your confidence and that feeling of empowerment needed to move your thoughts and wishes, and those desires to effect change, into action.
Questions regarding where you are at on the spectrum of physical, mental and emotional wellness aren't intended to make anyone feel less capable of helping others or making a difference in the world. Yet when we are coming from a place of being centered and whole in ourselves that shines through. How we are with ourselves, how we treat ourselves, affects how we in turn treat others, and is one of the most significant things we model in this world. It it the thing that most influences our children and those who are in regular contact with us.
Again as we return to the idea of keeping things simple. When you consider all the ways there are and might be to make a difference and create change in the world, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
Often the first thing that comes to mind is the thing that truly resonates with your inner spirit. This might be something that will put into motion your sense of purpose or a feeling that you have a calling.
Not everyone's journey is going to include starting a non-profit to build schools for girls in Vietnam, a safe house in Cambodia for girls or a hospital in Africa. The journey may involve volunteering at the local food shelter or animal shelter. The journey might be a mom and dad raising their children to be compassionate, caring, kind and loving. The journey might be lead a group of veterans with PTSD through a therapeutic drumming and painting playshop. The journey might be to start a local meditation group. The journey might be to use cloth bags at the grocery store, instead of plastic. The journey might be to run for city council, mayor, the senate or even president. The journey might be to write poetry. The journey might be to take thought provoking photographs and share them with the world, as is the case with JR from France who shares his journey through a TED talk which you can watch here. The journey might be calling, writing to and petitioning one's civic leaders to make changes to gun laws. The journey might be leading workshops, counseling others, or writing articles and books that inspire others to be their best selves, who in turn do the same for others on their journey.
Do you have an inkling right now of what your journey might be?
This can be both a deep and yet also freeing question to ponder. Imagine that you have been agonizing over finding our big purpose on this planet and you suddenly realize your journey in giving back to others is through writing poetry, something that you love to do. Or that your great gift to others is through how you love to cook and feed people really good food. It could be that you have a gift for connecting people with other people and your role as a networker is so very valuable in bringing people together.
There are many ways one can make a difference. None of us have to do it all. None of us can do it all. All we can do is our own part. My wish is for us all to simply do our little part to make this a more compassionate, kind, caring and loving world. As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
Want to know of ways you can take action in connection with the Half the Sky movement? Visit this website to find out the many ways one can contribute ~ donate, volunteer, buy for good, advocate, become a campus ambassador, become a community ambassador, host or find a screening of Half the Sky, or share your story: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/pages/act
Here is a short video featuring actress America Ferrera as she talks about her participation in the Half the Sky documentary and her experience in India.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Meditation Poem (On breathing)
From The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh
The fourth element of our body is air. The best way to experience the air element is
the practice of mindful breathing. "Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out." After saying these sentences we can
abbreviate them by saying "In" as we breathe in and "Out" as we breathe out. We
don't try to control our breathing. Whether our in-breath is long or short, deep or
shallow, we just breathe naturally and shine the light of mindfulness on it. When we
do this we notice that, in fact, our breathing does become slower and deeper
naturally. "Breathing in, my in-breath has become deep. Breathing out, my outbreath has become slow." Now we can practice, "Deep/slow." We don't have to
make an extra effort. It just becomes deeper and slower by itself, and we recognize
Later on, you will notice that you have become calmer and more at ease. "Breathing
in, I feel calm. Breathing out, I feel at ease. I am not struggling anymore.
Calm/ease." And then, "Breathing in, I smile. Breathing out, I release all my
worries and anxieties. Smile/release." We are able to smile to ourselves and release
all our worries. There are more than three hundred muscles in our face, and when
we know how to breathe in and smile, these muscles can relax. This is "mouth
yoga." We smile and are able to release all our feelings and emotions. The last
practice is, "Breathing in, I dwell deeply in the present moment. Breathing out, I
know this is a wonderful moment. Present moment/wonderful moment." Nothing is
more precious than being in the present moment fully alive and aware.
Present moment, wonderful moment.
If you use this poem during sitting or walking meditation, it can be very nourishing
and healing. Practice each line for as long as you wish.
Another practice to help us be aware of our breathing is counting. As you breathe
in, count "one" and as you breathe out, count "one" again. Then "Two/two,"
"Three/three," until you arrive at ten. After that, go back in the other direction:
"Ten/ten," "Nine/nine," and so on, until you arrive back at one. If you do get lost go
back to "one" and begin again. Relax. It's only a game. When you succeed in
counting, you can drop the numbers if you like and just say "in" and "out."
Conscious breathing is a joy."
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Sunday, January 6, 2013
If you are familiar with author Oriah Mountain Dreamer you might be surprised to learn that once upon a time she doubted if she would ever become a published writer. This is the woman who wrote the piece called The Invitation, that later became a book by the same title. Oriah shares in her book What We Ache For: Creativity and the Unfolding of Your Soul the story of attending a writing workshop, and how after having her writing torn to pieces over the course of several days, and hearing how few people will ever succeed at writing, left the workshop feeling deflated and almost convinced she should throw in the towel. Yet writing called to her soul and she picked herself back up and continued to follow that calling.
It was her determination and an internal pull to continue to write that propelled her forward. She explains in her book What We Ache For how a writer will write, a dancer will dance, an artist will paint or sculpt, the musician will make compose, the photographer will take photos and so on. They will do these things over and over again. Here is how she expands on the subject:
"Sometimes we use the same stories and images, sounds and movements. Sometimes we work on the same themes using different stories and images, sounds and movements. Sometimes we create the unexpected and never repeated. Sometimes we create between interviews and publicity tours. More often we create between dental appointments and taking our children to hockey practice. But we do our creative work. It's how we learn how to do the creative work. And sometimes we become tired and discouraged. Sometimes we do not want to see the same image emerge on the canvas, find the same theme surface in the story we are writing. Sometimes we are afraid we will never be able to write or paint or compose or dance or film the wholeness or beauty or truth we ache to produce. And in these moments we take ourselves out into the world and let our sexuality, our love of the sensual beauty of this physical life, and our spirituality, our experiences of the truth we ache for, find us and rekindle our passion to create. We let the dance between the world and our imaginations move us. And we begin again, painting or writing or composing moving or photographing or filming. It's how we dip down into that well of creative potential and weave a story or create an image or find just a single phrase of melody that takes the breath away. It's how we pray, how we participate in in life. Over and over again."Oriah also recounts a great story about John Cougar Mellencamp. She shares how she heard him being interviewed on the radio and described what she heard this way:
"Mellencamp said that people generally fail in creative endeavors because they assume that great artists produce great works of art from the moment they begin. He postulated that for every masterpiece Renoir produced he has painted dozens if not hundreds of paintings that were just not very good. As a composer, Mellencamp had realized that he had to be willing to compose literally thousands of bad songs, songs that were hardly worth singing and certainly not worth recording, if he wanted to write one great song. Mellencamp pointed out that when an artist puts his or her work out into the world it appears to emerge fully formed. Those who received the completed work, the piece deemed worthy of sharing, hav eno idea how long a process was involved, how many previous incarnations hit the trash can or were painted or recorded over."Oriah shares that we have to be willing to keep at it, to learn from the doing. If we want to learn how to write or paint or do any form of creative work, we have to be willing to do it over and over and over again, even if the results are not what we want. Oriah shares how she was at first horrified when a respected writer advised her at workshop to lower her standards. She shares that while for a perfectionist this is tough, it is necessary advice, because "Nothing stops the creative flow and obstructs the only path to learning to create - repeated trial and error - like being wedded to doing it perfectly...and nothing frees up the flow, opens the door to the learning that can come only with repeated experience, like lowering your standards, giving yourself permission to write the worst possible drivel that has ever hit the page."
Lastly Oriah also shares this piece of wisdom that was told to her years ago in a dream. An old man who she had seen in her dreams for many years smiled and said to her, "Do not confuse what you do with who you are, Oriah. You are not a writer, although you may at times write. You are life unfolding in human form, an awareness within which writing, along with many other things --eating, sleeping, making love, walking in the sun, feeling sad or glad --arise. There is no writer, only writing." She says that this dream led her to this revelation:
"This idea frees us from the sometimes oppressive notion that we make the creative work happen. The human neurological system and awareness is but one of the places where creative work arise and through which it happens. Thinking of it this way, we can let the creative work be whatever it is. We can arrive at our desks or studios, our journals or easels or keyboards or cameras, excited to see what might happen and content to let it be what it is, to repeat the process over and over. This perspective can keep us from viewing creative work as a means to an end, as something with a hope-for outcome, and help us see it rather as an end in itself."
Here are some questions to consider:
Today I am will to do __________________________ badly.
Today I will lower my standards in how I....
I do ______________ badly, but I do it because....
My words for 2013 are Wonder, Wow, Love, Health, Grace, Peace, Breath, Action, Courage and Mystery.
What words might you want to claim and hold close this year?