Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Peace On Earth

We enjoyed a truly blessed Christmas here in Georgia (even a miraculous snowfall!), yet for all the talk about peace on earth that the season brings, I am left pondering how we have come so far from it. The discord spread throughout the world seems almost overwhelming at times. Wars are fought, genocides are committed and gang activity seems at an all time high. I believe peace is more than an idea, but how do we accomplish this on a global level?

One of my nephews, home on leave for Christmas from his job as a medic in Iraq, brought back some rather sobering information. He signed up for the military specifically to be a medic--a role where he would take care of people instead of kill them. You would think he would be allowed to do his job and help his fallen comrades relatively unscathed, but this is not the case. Medics are second only to gunners on the snipers' attack list. I can understand why they would want to take out the gunners first, but why the medics? Is their level of hatred so strong they do not want to see anyone helped?

What is it about places like Iraq that encourage such hatred and violence? Why do people choose to join gangs and live as outlaws? I believe the answer to all these questions is quite simple: humans have a basic need for love and when that is in short supply they try to fill the hole up with what is available. In places like Iraq and Afghanistan, a religion that promises a better life in heaven and that makes them part of a community in the present is often very attractive. Here in America, where gangs are quite prevalent, people who join them often lack strong family support. The gang then becomes their replacement family. The bottom line is, we are all searching for love. When it is not there, we fill it with other things to try to plug up that emptiness.

So what can we do to promote peace on earth? We help take care of the needs of those around us. We can donate our time, our resources, ourselves to help people fill that basic need for love. It doesn't have to be big. It just needs to be done. Peace on earth begins in the heart. Peace on earth begins with you and me.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Once again, I am suffering from a round of holiday depression. There is one difference this year though. I have developed some better coping skills lately, which I have been using to combat this years blues. Call it my own variation of Byron Katie's "The Work" (Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life) or Wayne Dyer's Excuses Begone!: How to Change Lifelong, Self-Defeating Thinking Habits, but it really has been a process of questioning my own beliefs and uncovering the truth behind my feelings. It's boiled down to a question of what is the reality behind my holiday expectations.

I grew up in a Christian home which celebrated Christmas the traditional American way. The holidays were a time of decorating the tree, setting up the nativity set, baking cookies and listening to and singing Christmas carols. Most years we would celebrate with extended family--grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, and overall it was a very joyous occasion. Presents, too, were a big deal. There was a lot of secrecy and planning that went into it all (of course, the early days were also filled with visits to Santa and wondering if he would bring that special wished-for gift). My parents did a great job of making my early Christmas memories very fond ones.

When my kids were little--even while I was a single mom--Christmas was still pretty big for me. I loved playing Santa and trying to hide the Santa gifts from my kids well enough they never found out I was Santa until they were older. I would start saving for Christmas early in those days because I wanted to give my children the same sort of magical memories I had growing up. My kids still have favorite Christmas sweets they request every year.

It has only been the more recent "middle-aged" years Christmas has begun to be a drag for me. As my children are too old for Santa, the planning and plotting has gone by the wayside. Making cookies seems to tucker me out more than it used to, and the rush of working and trying to get everything done is frustrating. On top of all that, no one seems to appreciate what effort I do manage to put into it. This does not motivate me to do more.

Still, there are a few things I know. When you take away all the hype of what Christmas is "supposed" to be, you realize it is natural for the work you put into it to wear you out and wear you down. If everybody doesn't get that special present or if you don't have time to make that special cookie, it's okay. They won't die, and they will probably still  be happy with what they get. There are other years and other occasions to accomplish those things. Let yourself off the hook! Focus on relaxing, on relationships, on enjoying the season of giving. Life really is too short to become upset over the little things. Often, it is our expecatations that bring us down much more than the actual events. Do what you can, enjoy what you've done and then let it go. Happiness or sadness is your choice. Making sure your expectations are realistic will make happiness that much easier to achieve.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

To Master Conflict

I had the most amazing experience at work this evening--one that would have left me upset and nervous only a few short months ago but today has made me feel wonderfully grateful and strong. Tonight, I know that one of the lessons I had written about previously in this blog (It Isn't About You!, Sept. 15, 2010) has been truly incorporated into my being. I was able to handle a conflict situation with a grace and understanding, truly diffusing it in a non-confrontational way. The thrill of knowing I was acting and not reacting filled me with such a peace. I knew beyond doubt I had mastered this conflict.

I've been working at a department store. Anyone who has ever worked in a retail environment knows there are just some customers that are hard to deal with. Most of the time I don't even notice them--mainly because I can usually address their issues and make them feel better. Tonight, this wasn't true. I was processing a return for this customer, and in my haste I asked her to sign the return receipt. Most of them have to be signed, so it has become habit for me to ask everyone for it. Unfortunately, this one truly didn't need to be signed (at this point in time, I'm still new enough in the job I don't know the difference). The customer immediately went off on me, saying I was not treating her like every other customer, that I was singling her out because of who she was, etc. etc. I apologized for my error and did try to explain I was still new in the position. However, she was not listening to me at that point. While I could have been angry or upset with her, I chose not to be because I could see from her reaction that she had been hurt somehow in the past. I knew she had been wrongly accused of something and she was in a place in life where she was going to make sure it didn't happen again. She was reacting from her past pain. I was able to understand that and move toward her with compassion. While I can't say the customer was happy when she left, I will say she did reluctantly wish me a "Merry Christmas" after I had issued a sincere, "Thank you for shopping with us and Merry Christmas!"

The incident ironically left my coworkers and even a few customers upset. The customers at the register next to me told me I had done a great job. So did my coworkers. One of the younger ones even said, "I don't know how you did that. I would have been in tears." The thing is, I viewed the whole incident with a different lens, and it made a huge impact on the way I dealt with it.

While I can't say I will react this well to every conflict that comes up, I can say I know the tools are there. I truly do understand that the attacks of others upon me are not about me but about their own internal struggles. I am well on my way toward mastering conflict, and I am overwhelmingly thankful.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Learning Resilience

Something amazing has happened! I've acquired a new tool in the toolbox of life which makes it that much easier to cope with any problem I seem to have. This tool helps me see my problems in a whole new light--the light of opportunity. I am no longer afraid of mistakes. They have become my friends as I choose to understand mistakes are not bad things because of the growth they produce.

I used to be extremely perfectionistic. I was a rule-follower of the highest calliber so that I could avoid the conflicts in life. As I was quite good at it, this stategy usually worked well for me. Well, at least until I encountered an unavoidable problem. At that point, I would beat myself up a bit and try to figure out ways to avoid the conflict in the future. Then I would try to ignore it altogether. If I couldn't ignore the problem I would often end up in a state of learned helplessness until someone else kick-started me into activity. Needless to say, my coping skills were seriously flawed and ineffective.

Because I have taken time lately to review the experiences of my life, I have made a very important discovery. The times I was faced with life's biggest challenges were my times of highest learning and growth. Challenging experiences brought me so much more than the routine ones. Because I now understand this, I look at problems in a whole new light. Problems are not pitfalls, but opportunities. The fear I used to feel in life is being replaced by joy as I accept and even look forward to these new opportunities for growth. I am learning resilience, and my life will never be the same.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Recognizing Patterns

Caution: the content of this post contains adult topics and may not be suitable for everyone.

They say recognizing the problem is halfway to solving it. What we often fail to realize is that many of our problems are habitual patterns in our set of learned behaviors. Ever faced a problem where you've said something like, "Why do I keep making this mistake over and over again?" (This is usually the same problem with a different set of variables.) It's because you are making the same behavior choices over and over again. Until you begin to recognize the pattern, you will very likely never consciously change it. In order to become the powerful creator of your life you were meant to be, you need to be able to make informed, conscious decisions.

Years ago when I worked in a group home with emotionally disturbed children, I worked with a young girl who had been molested by several of her mom's boyfriends. At the time I was still quite young and naive, but I did have the sense to recognize the dysfunctional pattern this mother had--one where she was apparently attracted to molesters. (I have since come to understand she was probably molested herself and caught in this cycle of abuse through learned behavior.) Because this pattern was so ingrained in the mother, she eventually lost custody of her daughter because the courts deemed she could not keep her daughter safe. Fortunately, the daughter was getting help and ended up with a terrific adoptive family. I don't know if the mother ever got the help she needed. Unfortately, this story is not that uncommon.

One of my own dysfunctional patterns was the result of wanting to help others. While I wouldn't call my first marriage a bad one, it was one where I did all the giving and my husband did all the taking. The marriage fell apart when I had small children to take care of and he was no longer my first priority. In the 10+ years I spent as a single mom, I had two brief relationships before meeting my current husband. Fortunately, I was able to recognize my old pattern within those two relationships relatively quickly and I was able to let them go without much trauma. My current husband is a giver like me. I have to admit, it was uncomfortable for me when we first began dating because I was not used to being catered to. Still, I understood that I deserved to get what I put out in the universe. I changed my pattern and solved that problem.

When you get to a place of conflict in your life, ask yourself a few key questions. Have I been to this place before (maybe with different people or in a different place)? What do I need to do differently to change the outcome next time?  Then, don't beat yourself up. Life is a process of making mistakes that ultimately lead to understanding and growth. It is in recognizing our dysfunctional patterns we are able to make the changes necessary to learn from this human experience.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What Forgiveness Really Does

I see a great deal of unforgiveness in the world today, and I have to confess it really bothers me. It isn't just because I can sense the anger and resentment bubbling just below the surface of the people it affects. It isn't because I believe the unforgiven to be riddled with guilt (although sometimes they are). What bothers me most about unforgiveness is the fact that the very act keeps the unforgiver in a perpetual state of anger and resentment. To me, it's a self-made prison--a form of hell on earth.

Let's dissect an example of unforgiveness: a nasty divorce. You think about the hurt, the betrayal, the disappointment, the loss. You play games with the finances, the assets, the kids. You basically lose yourself in every negative feeling the experience brings up. You may even justify its existence by thinking how you've been wronged and how your ex deserves every negative thing which results from your pain. The thing is, when you allow yourself to exist in this state, you are the victim. You are not in a place where you can summon up the courage and resources you need to go on. You are wallowing and trapped. Sometimes, we allow this pain and negativity to go on for years.

When you come to a place of forgiveness, you are in a place of acceptance. You acknowledge what has happened, learn from it and look for new and different paths. Often, you are in a state of appreciation for how you have grown as a human. The chains of victimhood are now broken, and you are free once again to become the powerful creator of your life you were meant to be.

Life can be hard, and it is definitely not fair. Acknowledge this and allow yourself to move on and expand. Holding on to unforgiveness is a block that can keep you from receiving many of the blessings life has to offer. The willingness to let the negativity go will create new opportunities for growth. The reality is, forgiveness does much more for the forgiver than it does for the forgiven. It allows the forgiver to move forward and into a better life.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Transforming Your Reality

In my haste at work last night, I put myself in a precarious position--one that could have had serious consequences if I had not caught myself and stopped it. In the past, such a scenario would have sent me into the world of panic and worry as my paranoid self wondered if I would be "found out". Today, there is nothing but calm and peace. I attribute this state of peace to some enlightened views of the world I have incorporated just this past year. These ideas have truly transformed my life into a new reality.

As I drove home from work, I did my usual review of the situation. I had to admit I was just not thinking clearly while I was trying to speed through my work. Fortunately, there was a moment of sanity where I said, "Oops...time to stop." I realized no harm done. From there I progressed to the worst case scenario routine--this one potentially getting fired. My old self would have continued to worry about getting fired. My new self thought, "Okay, you did stop once you thought about it." I even took it a step further. I thought, "So what if I were to get fired? It may feel bad at the time, but ultimately the only thing being fired means would be that I was meant to experience this then move on to something different."

My new reallity is, things may seem bad at the time, but in the end they really do work out for the greater good! Every negative experience I've ever had felt like the end of the world. What I have finally incorporated into my being is the fact that those times which felt like the end of the world were truly only new beginnings! They have been my places of highest growth and awareness. They have all brought me into new states of being, new places of power. I realized I could be thankful for the negative because even when I don't know what's going to happen initially I know it will result in something beautiful! It took a long time for this seed idea to fully blossom into a wonderful flower. Now that is has, I feel different. I feel transformed.

Our human existence is all about growth--about becoming more than we presently are. Consequently, we all have the ability to learn and change. It begins with a fresh perspective. Once we are able to consistently see the world through this new lens we react differently to it. It is this knowledge that transforms our existence. It is this knowledge that tranforms our realities.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Imperfection Makes Us...Perfect

From the time I was a small child, I've had major perfectionist issues. My school work had to be perfect. My drawings had to be perfect. I had to follow all the rules. When I fell down in any issue, I would beat myself up. This has continued until very recently and has only changed because I learned this secret:  mistakes are essential to growth.

It may sound strange, but it's true. Living a perfect life teaches you nothing except judgement. You end up living your life by some worldly standard--a man-made creation that has nothing to do with the truth that is God. In my life, it has been those times I have done something out of the ordinary that I learned better coping skills (not to mention compassion for others). Ask yourself this simple question: Have I learned more from playing by the rules or by straying from them? What has given me the most surprising results?

We choose this human life as an opportunity for expansion and growth. Attempting to be perfect will limit our success. Making mistakes facilitates our development by increasing our options. While some mistakes can be horrible, they still have the potential to teach us something. I no longer beat myself up over my mistakes. I accept who I am, flaws and all, because it is my imperfection that makes me perfect.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Power of a Smile

I recently took a job as a sales representative at a department store that emphasizes customer service and friendliness. Because it is important to smile at and talk to customers, I have had a great deal of practice smiling lately. I realized the other day how good the smiling has been for me. I left work, after smiling for hours, with a smile on my face and a light-hearted, happy feeling in my chest. It's been a long time since I've felt that good. It made me realize just how much power is in a smile.

I was very happy as a child. Sure I had the usual disappointments, but I generally had a smile on my face. From a very early age I understood the importance of giving one of my smiles to people who were not smiling. Right away they would cheer up and smile back. I was open and encouraging with them, and they would respond in kind. Doors opened easily for me. Things almost always went my way. It is only as an adult that I have come to realize my smile had a great deal to do with that.

As an adult, my own personal problems as well as the problems of the world have often weighed me down. I spent years as a single mom depressed and only minimally able to cope with life's problems. In the past year, I have been made very aware that much of that time was spent not smiling.

As I reflect on where my life has been, where my life is, and where I want my life to go, I am increasingly aware of the power of a smile. It has opened many doors and enabled me to help others. Even more important, it has had the power to heal me. It is one simple little action, but it has the power to change the world.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Missing Secret

As a huge fan of The Secret (Extended Edition) by Rhonda Byrne, I was inspired by many great ideas. Things like what you focus on becomes reality and the importance of gratitude have played key roles in my subsequent life and resulted in many positive outcomes. Still, my successes have been somewhat limited in nature and I am aware of many others who feel the same way. In my quest to find answers, I have stumbled upon one principle which was not emphasized, but has been very important in my development: the principle of connection.

The Secret has a tendency to focus on the things you can do as an individual to draw what you want into your life. When most of us see ourselves as individuals, we see ourselves as independent, separate beings. The truth is, when we are separate from each other and the Universe we have no power. There is a power that flows in and through all things. This power binds us and connects us to everything that exists and is the source of insight and inspiration. The more "plugged in" we are to this energy of connection, the more powerful we become.

Think about this: when you are open, smiling, happy, others are much more open to you because you are inviting them in. They like you and want to help you if they can. Doors that weren't previously opened are now accessible to you. You have made yourself energetically connected to them. When you open up like this to the rest of the Universe--animals, places, things--their energy is also opened up to you. The reality is, while we function in this world as individuals, we are always part of a larger whole.

The reverse is also true. When you are closed off from others and the rest of the world, it is closed to you. This is when nothing goes your way, and you are powerless. You may even become angry or depressed. There is no greater hell than the state of separateness.

The solution to making the law of attraction work for you is simple: Learn to connect to that place in your soul that is One with the Universe. Feel your Oneness, your connection. Take time every day to become famaliar with all that is present there--feelings, people, things, places, events, etc. Learn to draw strength from it. You will find insights and inspirations that were always there but never seen before. You will understand how you fit into the great plan. You will have found what is missing. You will have found yourself.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Source of Our Perspective

Years ago, I worked in a group home with emotionally disturbed children. One of the children I worked with, whom I will call Justin, was at the home because of run ins he had already had with the law at the tender age of eight. He and a gang of six-year-olds had gone around the neighborhood stealing bikes. It was a natural occurence for someone growing up poor and coming from a family where everyone else also had problems with the law.

One morning as the children were getting ready for school, I knocked on Justin's door to let him know he was not going to school right away because he was to have a meeting with his probation officer. At my announcement, the eyes of Justin's roommate, who was a year older and bigger than Justin, widened in surprise and he said, "You have a probation officer?!!!" (Most of the children there just had social workers.) Justin looked at the roommate, and in a very innocent sort of way said, "Sure. Doesn't everybody?" I had to stifle back a laugh, because Justin truly wasn't aware that most people don't have probation officers. Where he came from, everybody did.

My purpose in sharing this story is not just to amuse but to point out how the society we grow up in shapes our view of the world. We may have grown up in a society that fears and hates people from different races or cultures. We may have grown up in a society that tells us being gay is a sin and will land you in hell if you don't "reform". The problem with these societal beliefs is that they are often based on false truths and lead to separation.

We are not here to perpetuate separateness. We are here to learn how to love unconditionally. We are called to bridge the gap that separates us from our fellow human beings! Often, it is those lessons society teaches us that cause the divisions. Conflict is the result of a tainted point of view and not a reflection of truth. When in the middle of conflict, it is important to assess the situation from a more objective point of view. Learn to question yourself. Why do I believe this is wrong? Because the Bible says it's wrong and the Bible is an infallible source of truth? (Maybe this has more to do with your preacher's or family's intrepretation of the Bible.) Because this is the law, and I always follow the law? Whatever your reason, if you follow it back to its source you will discover your perspective is highly influenced by your life lessons. Your perspective may not be influenced by truth at all.

The fact of the matter is, we all have access to the truth. It lies within. There is a part of our soul that is directly connected to the Universe and all things in it. Even Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21 KJV) Time to see the source of our perspective for what it is--our life lessons. Once we understand this, we can let go of our learned perspective and embrace the truth. We become a source of wholeness and healing for the world.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Perfection of Allowing

My heart is breaking for a friend in distress. A terrible custody battle has been raging over her young granddaughter and it is not looking good for her daughter. Part of the problem stems from her daughter's troubled past. Although the daughter has been away from her former lifestyle for years the custody battle has dredged it all up, and the child's father is extremely good at keeping up appearances. They face the very real possibility that they could lose custody to a father who wants the child mainly so he doesn't have to pay child support. We have all prayed for a positive outcome, and are saddened by the thought the daughter may lose custody.

Still, as I look at the situation, there are a few things I know. The first is that our perceptions are not necessarily reality. Our experiences are colored by what we have been taught by society and what we have gleaned from our own personal experiences. This coloring may taint the way we see the truth. There are also probably elements we can't even see because our experiences and societal lessons have not taught us to look for them. I know we may not be looking at the situation the same way God looks at the situation.

Another thing I know is the more I fight against the inevitable the more the inevitable fights back. Fighting only brings more problems, never solutions. Occasionally we may be able to run away from our problems, but in the long run they tend to catch up with us again (sometimes in a slightly different form but always the same essential problem). It is only when I give up what I want and "surrender" to the inevitable that God enables me to resolve the issue.

I don't have all the answers, but I know God has a plan. There is obviously something about this situation we are missing. Maybe the granddaughter has been sent to help her father change in some way, and having custody of her will help achieve this goal. Maybe it is something else, but I know in the very depths of my soul things happen for a reason. When we have the courage to accept the plan, things fall into place. Chaos becomes order. Struggle becomes peace. When we allow things to be, we unblock the barriers which limit our growth. We allow ourselves, and others, to be perfected. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Opportunity to Love

Years ago, I attended a small Christian congregation. For the most part, it was a pretty good group of people. Still there were several members there who I always felt were just outside the group even though they were included in church activities. One was a lady who was very needy to the point of being embarressing. Another was a single mom who had never been married. Still another was a woman whose home life was so dysfunctional and chaotic she could not hide it, including a grown son serving serious time in prison. At times my heart would break as I felt some of the isolation these women experienced because of their differences.

In one particularly insightful moment, I managed to ask God an extremely relevant question. In my heartbreak, I asked God why these women were here at this church. The answer I got back was almost instantaneous. "They are here to give the other people in the congregation the opportunity to love."

I pondered this one for a while. These women had lifestyles different enough from the mainstream Christian population for them to be ostracized within that community, yet here they were continuing on as part of it. I have believed for a long time we all choose our missions in life. I realized the lives they had chosen were not about their own glory but were about helping others learn to love--one of life's greatest lessons. In my mind's eye, I understood they were not the victims of their circumstances but noble teachers who chose to dedicate their lives to helping others.

From the moment of our births, we are taught the "right" ways to behave in society. Straying from that path subjects us to the disapproval and separation of judgement. However, life is not about separation. Life is about finding what is good in others and allowing ourselves to love them regardless of our differences. The opportunity to love is all around us. Time to lay aside our differences and focus on the light within.