A Lesson after 9/11: Compassion

11 09 2011

At the software company I worked for, we watched in horror after the first tower was struck. With my co-workers, we watched as a plane drove into the second tower. We were in shock as was the entire nation. We were glued to the television…waiting for information. We saw people jump from the towers to their deaths and knew that many more had died as the towers crumbled to the ground. We saw the look of sheer terror on the faces of those present and running from the towers. It was an apocalyptic event being broadcast live as we watched.

To make it even more surreal, my manager at the time kept crossing through the lobby and glaring at me as if to say “Why are you wasting your time watching television?” My peers were all there watching. Something monumental was happening. We needed time to witness and attempt to cope with what we were seeing. Feeling the pressure from this demanding boss, I was one of the first to pull away and go back to my desk and it was incredibly difficult to focus and do technical marketing work. It was corporate America saying “You’re not human. Don’t feel. Just do your work…no matter what else is going on.” It was the birthday of one of my co-workers, but definitely not a day to celebrate.

Credit: TellingNicholas.com

Today, 10 years later, I am still disturbed by that glare. It’s one of the reasons I choose to work for myself. Yes, there are business demands and the software business is incredibly demanding. But people are not robots. Bad things happen and we have feelings. We need time and space to witness, to grieve, and to recover.

I just watched another one of HBO’s incredible documentaries. This one is called “Telling Nicholas” and first aired on May 19, 2002. Created by director/producer/writer James Ronald Whitney, it also won an Emmy.

It tells the story of how the mother of 7-year-old Nicholas died in the World Trade Centers on 9/11 and how the family struggled to accept that she is not coming back and is indeed dead. They also struggled with how to tell Nicholas. It his heart wrenching and I cried throughout most of the movie. The family is very sensitive to and protective of this little boy’s feelings.

I’m not a 7-year-old boy and I didn’t lose my mommy or anyone on 9/11. Still, we all grieve that day and the loss of innocence, security, and safety we had up until then. We grieve the loss of so many people who were doing nothing but living their lives and working and being mommies and daddies and brothers and sisters and children.

If 9/11 has had any positive impact, hopefully it has taught us to appreciate the freedom we have, to value life, to be grateful for the love of others, and to never take even one day of our lives for granted. And to stop the glares. We all need time to process when things happen…even if we’re at work…and we all need to practice and feel compassion.





Hip-Hop, Yoga, and Being Super Rich

30 07 2011

Think of the “godfather of hip-hop” Russell Simmons and you definitely think RICH. He founded the music label Def Jam as well as clothing lines such as Phat Farm and American Classics. With a net worth estimate of $340 million, he is the third richest figure in hip-hop, only behind artists Diddy and Jay-Z. But do you also think of yoga and spirituality when you think of Russell Simmons?

Simmons is the author (along with Chris Morrow) of Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All. His business website www.rushcommunications.com relates his many business successes, which “have spanned music, film, television, fashion, video games, online and financial services” and his activism, which “has encompassed all of the areas touched by his businesses, including poverty, education, social justice and inclusion.”

It’s easy to daydream about being incredibly rich, but Simmons is more than just about having a lot of money. He grew up in a lower-middle class African-American community in Queens and recently was named one of the 25 most influential people of the last 25 years by USA Today. He has two beautiful daughters he adores (and a beautiful, well-known, and accomplished ex-wife Kimora Lee Simmons). Not only does he practice yoga, meditation, and philanthropy, he also eats no meat. He believes that there is a connection between his spiritual practices and his worldly success.

The title of his book Super Rich might make you think it’s all about accumulating money, but to Simmons that term means “the state of needing nothing.” That’s powerful! THE STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING. Imagine being in that state. Surely, you’d feel super rich. But how do you achieve that state? Simmons says that we have to “clear out the clutter and quiet the noise” that keeps us from “hearing” or connecting with the happiness…or the richness…that is already inside of us.

He says that we attract the world to us by giving until the world can’t live without what you have to offer. Huh? To get rich, you just give away what you have? YES! He quotes yogis: “You never lose what you have given” and says that if you “just show the world a fraction of the sweetness and honesty that’s in your heart, it’s going to come running after you.”

What else can you do to attain the STATE OF NEEDING NOTHING?

  • Access stillness…that “quiet, peaceful mental state that allows you to be completely present in life.” Then you can become “totally connected with the inspiration and imagination that’s inside [you].”
  • “Stay focused on your work without any expectations for, or concern with, the fruit of your labor” and “operate out of a zone of pure focus and clarity” like Michael Jordan did on the basketball court.
  • Be a business yogi and “only do shit you believe in. Period!” Vegan Simmons, for example, says he would never invest in a restaurant that serves meat. If you are a yogi, you won’t do work that creates instability or suffering in the world. Let go of the results…and watch what happens!
  • “Be reborn every day.” Simmons went from being a drug dealer to a mega-rich businessman, yogi, author (he previously penned the New York Times best seller Do You!: 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success), and humanitarian. How did he do that? He “began moving away from [his] unconscious state and toward enlightenment.” He says it is important to “get open”…to be fluid and creative and never rigid.
  • Build bridges…with people of other races, religions, beliefs, etc…that will bring people together. Recognize that we are all connected.
  • Practice and realize the power of acceptance and love of others and what is.
  • Enjoy and be grateful for the material things, but don’t become burdened by or attached to what you have. Instead, achieve balance in life.
  • “Make a real commitment to being conscious and compassionate.”  He quotes the story of the Bhagavad Gita and Arjuna’s final words to Lord Krishna: “Through your kind conversation, I’ve woken up and am conscious of who I really am.” Simmons says that even if you fall short in all the above things, if you are conscious and compassionate, you will…like Arjuna…become more awake, which is “central to all your success.”

Simmons says that, armed with the knowledge in the book, we can be like Arjuna and:

To fight not for what you can get for yourself, but what you can give to others.

To fight not for your own abundance, but for the abundance of others.

To fight not for your own security, but for the peace and safety of others.

To fight not for your own joy, but for the happiness of others.

To fight not for your own upliftment, but for the enlightenment of others.

Russell Simmons, hip-hop, fashion, and multi-business mogul, yogi, father, UN Goodwill Ambassador, vegan, and philanthropist, ends the book by saying:

When you are devoted to fighting for these things with a smile on your face and love radiating out of your heart, then all these things will be yours. You will have it all. You will be Super Rich.

How refreshing to see someone who truly is super rich in every way practice what he says. Thanks, Russell Simmons.

NOTE: This post also appears at http://project-prosperity.com/2011/07/30/hip-hop-yoga-and-being-super-rich.




Enchant Me(nt)

30 07 2011

Do you enchant others…in your personal life and through your work? Have you ever considered the value of enchantment? Guy Kawasaki, author of the book “Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions,” says that

“When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.”

Delight? How often do you come away from personal or business interactions feeling delighted? How often do you delight others? Kawasaki, former Apple evangelist and CEO of other companies, Silicon Valley venture capitalist, founder of Alltop.com, and the author of nine other books including “The Macintosh Way” (which was required reading when I was a software product manager several years ago), says that enchantment is absolutely necessary when we want to:

  • “Convince people to dream the same dream that [we] do.” To do this, we have to “aspire to lofty, idealistic results.”
  • Effect huge change
  • “Overcome entrenched habits”
  • “Defy a crowd” and create our own path…and get others to join us
  • “Proceed despite delayed or nonexistent feedback”

Kawaski gives concrete and specific advice on how to be enchanting in the book, with chapters entitled:

  • How to Achieve Likability
  • How to Achieve Trustworthiness
  • How to Prepare
  • How to Launch
  • How to Overcome Resistance
  • How to Make Enchantment Endure
  • How to Use Push Technology
  • How to Use Pull Technology
  • How to Enchant Your Employees
  • How to Enchant Your Boss
  • How to Resist Enchantment

Although “Enchantment” is primarily geared toward business, the principles are equally applicable to how to be personally enchanting. Kawasaki has mastered the art of enchantment. He is prolific on Twitter and posts about an incredibly wide array of topics. For someone so revered in the often nerdy high-tech world, he is personally charming, accessible, and humble.

His advice for how to achieve likability include things like finding out what the other person’s passions are; in other words, do your homework. Do they like to travel? Do they have kids? Do they enjoy fine wine? What’s their favorite sports team? Find out and meet them at that place of commonality. You will instantly enchant the other person if you care enough to do that.

The book gives many examples of businesses that enchant and how they enchant their customers. An example is REI, which was started in 1938 by 22 friends and now 3.7 million customers shop at 100 REI stores (and online.) People go there to shop, but also to socialize with other active people and to get advice from experienced cyclists, campers, or mountain climbers. Kawasaki says that the goal of enchantment is “long-lasting change,” which is “what happens when you change hearts, minds, and actions.” REI has built community and this community of enchanted customers is loyal and enduring.

“Enchantment” is an easy read and is filled with practical and enchanting tips. It’s worth a read and to keep on your bookshelf as a reference book (think new product introductions, starting a new venture, or captivating and signing a new customer). Want to keep abreast of what enchants the ubiquitous Guy Kawasaki? Join him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/enchantment or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/Alltop.

NOTES:
  • The photos of Guy Kawasaki and the cover of “Enchantment” are printed with the permission of Guy Kawaski. The REI logo is from the REI.com website.
  • This blog is featured on Alltop.com, which was founded by Guy Kawaski. As one of the featured bloggers on Alltop, I was asked if I’d like to receive a complimentary copy of “Enchantment.” It was my choice whether to review it and what to say about it.




I Walked a 50K (31 Miles)

19 07 2011

On July 9, 2011 I walked a 12-hour race and completed 50K. That’s THIRTY-ONE MILES. I set some really bodacious goals at the start of the year. Walking a 12-hour race and completing a 50K (31 miles) was one of them. I had no idea at the time if I could even go 6 hours, but decided at least it was a good goal.

I decided to go for it and set a very aggressive training schedule. I stuck to it except for dealing with some setbacks along the way…lingering arm pain from a hard fall, an unexpected trip out of town, getting sick, and some foot pain that laid me up awhile. I wasn’t a beginning walker when I started. I sold my car when I moved out to the San Francisco Bay area so I walk everywhere and was already doing some long walks. [NOTE: See my blog post A Year of Living Carless, which is featured today on the home page of WordPress.]

My training started very aggressively the week of April 25 when I walked 27 miles with my longest walk being 10 miles. Because I was behind in training, I had to quickly ramp up. A month later, I walked 21.5 miles as my long walk. Three weeks after that I walked a marathon. And three weeks after that was the race. The last few weeks I walked loops very similar to the 3.1 loop in the actual race with 200 feet elevation gain every loop.

I did a lot of research about how to prepare for and walk a 12-hour race. To say I was nervous about it is an understatement. I did way too much carbo loading, put on weight leading up to the race, and had to order a new wicking shirt a few days before the race. I got a smartphone around this time and loaded tons of music on it, had extra batteries, and bought an extra headset. I bought a running hat, trained with the kind of food and sports drink at the race, and took good care of my feet (lots of soaks in Epsom salts, petroleum jelly, Tom’s Blister Shield foot powder, and taping my feet in blister-prone areas). With the help of  Facebook friends, I came up with an athletic alter ego to motivate me during the race: DIANAMO KICKASS SISTA DISTANCE. I tapered my walking down to almost nothing and now the BIG DAY HAD ARRIVED. GULP.

RACE DAY – 7/9/11 – BRAZEN RACING DIRTY DOZEN RACE STARTS AT 7:00 A.M. AT PINOLE POINT, EAST BAY

Up at 4:10 a.m. Breakfast of peanut butter sandwich and an apple, a cup of coffee, and 20 ounces of water. Watching a little TV to relax while I ate. Got dressed. Prepared my feet. Gathered stuff in my bag. Walked my dog. Picked up at 6:10 by my son-in-law and 22-month-old grandson, who took my daughter Val and me to the race.

I had just a few minutes to pin my bib (#2) on my shorts, sign the waiver, get my headset, thread my timing chip through my shoe laces, pee, get my water bottle, and get lined up for the start.Val did this race last year and was excited and cool; I was NERVOUS. There were runners lined up to do a 6-hour race along with us brave souls planning to do the 12-hour race. And we’re off!

It was a cool, overcast morning…perfect for running (or in my case, walking). We ran parallel to the Bay for much of the race and braved the 20-30 mph gusting winds throughout the race, which had me chasing my hat several times later in the race when the sun came out. Since I was walking, everyone else raced ahead of me and I took a wrong turn at one point and had to backtrack. I felt much more confident after I got through the first loop and knew the course.

My first headset gave out after only 1.5 hours (charging issues) so I just listened to the natural sounds until I completed four loops. I grabbed the second headset then and fiddled with it for about 15 minutes. I never got it to synch (I use a Bluetooth headset)…turns out I needed to hold down the button a couple of more seconds…aargh. I did another loop and tried again for another 15 minutes (tick, tick, tick…time’s a wasting!). No luck. So I had NO music for the rest of the race…tough because music takes your mind off the pain and the distance.

At 11 a.m., noon, 5:00, and 6:00 there 5K (3.1 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles) races going on the track. Those people looked fresh and were fast, average, and some were novices and just happy to be running/walking a race. After 1:00, the 6-hour racers were done (and eating barbecue back at the start/finish) and the course thinned out a lot. That’s when you knew the really hard-core people were left and I got a lot of “GOOD JOB!” kudos from other racers who sailed past me.

I saw my daughter Val out on the race every two laps and she came up and hugged me, told me how great her race was going, and we got our photo taken together by one of the volunteer photographers once out on the course. It was so much fun doing the race with her and helped me keep going, even when I wanted to stop after four laps due to foot pain, tiredness, and heaviness in my legs.

I stopped every lap to pee and grabbed food and sports drink at the start/finish and mid-course…GU gel, cut up peanut butter/jelly sandwiches, peanut butter and bagel, Payday candy bars, chips, and Peanut M&Ms. I had very short conversations with the encouraging volunteers and I’d be off again to do another lap. Toward the end I doubled what I ate and drank when my energy really started sagging on loop 8 and that gave me the energy to finish the last two loops much faster.

The last mile was LONG and I got tearful thinking about what I was achieving. I had the time to do a shortened lap, but I was happy with just reaching my goal. 31 MILES. When I crossed the finish line, my arms went up in the air and I yelled out “YES!!!!” It was 6:34:37 P.M. I had walked nearly 12 hours. I DID IT!!! I put on my jacket, got my medal, and watched my daughter finish a few minutes later. She RAN 55.8 miles (her longest ever) and finished SECOND of all the women. WOW!

In an incredibly well-run event (thanks, Sam!), the first place guy ran 74.5 miles. First place gal ran 62.7 miles. I walked 31 miles.

Me with other 12-hour finishers

At 58 years old, I was the oldest female to compete in the 12-hour race. (And oh by the way, I am a PLUS SIZE woman.) I’m proud of what I did. REAL PROUD. And my name is going to be published in “Ultrarunning” magazine as having completed an ultramarathon!

Twenty minutes after I finished, I started getting dizzy and nauseous and thought I was going to pass out and/or throw up. It quickly passed. And yes, I was stiff for a few days afterward (no muscle pain though) and have been nursing some amazing looking blisters on my feet and that nagging foot pain.

But when a friend asked me if it was all worth it and would I do it again, the answer is absolutely YES. Dianamo Kickass Sista Distance, you go girl!

UPDATE: In October 2011, I walked the Portland Marathon (26.2 miles) in 8 hours and 42 seconds. This time I felt great at the finish. I also walked the Portland Marathon in October, 2012 in 7 hours and 38 minutes and felt great again!





Healing the Tiger…in Egypt and in Each of Us

30 01 2011

COMPELLING. CAPTIVATING. We CONNECT with the drama unfolding in Eqypt. Why? In the U.S., we sit in our cozy homes and have the freedom to make a living (although many of us are admittedly struggling with that right now), the freedom to make decisions about our lives, and the freedom to speak our minds. We complain that the government is too big or not doing enough and yet our government has checks and balances with the three branches of government; no one person can dictate entirely what happens in the country and no one person can rob the country and the people in it of funds and assets. We are blessed and we so often take it for granted.

We are riveted to the stories of those who don’t have the freedoms we have…people like those protesting in the streets of Eqypt. Perhaps we are trying to imagine what it must be like to have lived 30 years under an oppressive regime. Perhaps we are stunned to see the police so powerless and the army for the most part just standing by, supporting the people, and allowing them to protest. Perhaps we are also stunned that a few people who take to the streets to protest would be gunned down and that the Internet and cell phone service would be shut down for an entire country. This would not happen here. No one person has that much power.

The country and people of Egypt seem to be suffering from societal trauma. Dr. Peter A. Levine, author of “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma,” says that:

Citizens in our inner cities randomly destroy property and life as the effects of years of accumulated stress, trauma, hostility, and economic oppression combust.

Credit: Dominic Harness

Dr. Levine talks of how an animal in the wild handles being attacked by another animal. It can fight back, flee, or freeze (play dead) until the attacking animal loses interest and then run away. The last option of freezing is what happens to people when their options are taken from them.

Unfortunately, human beings…unlike a tiger in the wild…don’t know how to shake off the trauma physically after freezing and we wind up internalizing the trauma sometimes for decades. Perhaps the traumatized part in each of us (for whatever reason…child abuse, a surgery, an accident, a divorce, a job loss, losing our home, the loss of a child, returning from war, etc.) connects with the people of Eqypt. They are acting out the effects of decades of trauma and woundedness and we get it.

Dr. Levine says that:

Trauma cannot be ignored. It is an inherent part of the primitive biology that brought us here. The only way we will be able to release ourselves, individually and collectively, from re-enacting our traumatic legacies is by transforming them through renegotiation.

He goes on to say that:

Transformation requires a willingness to challenge your basic beliefs about who you are. Through transformation, the nervous system regains its capacity for self-regulation. Our emotions begin to lift us up rather than bring us down. They propel us into the exhilarating ability to soar and fly, giving us a more complete view of our place in nature. Our perceptions broaden to encompass a receptivity and acceptance of what is, without judgment. We are able to learn from our life experiences. Without trying to forgive, we understand that there is no blame. We often obtain a surer sense of self while become more resilient and spontaneous. This new self-assuredness allows us to relax, enjoy, and live life more fully. We become more in tune with the passion and ecstatic dimensions of life.

Perhaps this is happening with the people in Egypt; they seem to be feeling more confident and more hopeful and are transforming as a people. We are watching history in the making, unfolding before our eyes. We see the possibility of what happens when people unite in a common cause to help lift each other and a nation up. It gives us hope as individuals that we can lift ourselves up out of our own personal traumas and transform our own personal and collective lives.





A Year of Living Carless

5 01 2011

Have you ever thought of giving up your car? Does the thought make you break out in a cold sweat? Does it sound impossible? It’s not. I’ve managed for over a year now without a car. I must admit that when I first thought of selling my car and going without one, I felt fearful.

I was living in Austin, Texas…a really hard place to get around without a car. I made the decision to move out to the Berkeley/Albany area (East Bay) in San Francisco to live near one of my daughters and baby grandson. They moved out here and have gone carless. I saw that it was possible and decided to give it a try. It certainly simplified my move. I just put all my stuff in a 16-foot truck and drove it out here (okay, that wasn’t simple…that was scary and long and challenging) and didn’t have to worry about how to get a vehicle out here too.

So how DO you go without a car? How does that work?

  • You do a lot of walking. I walk to see my daughter. I walk to the YMCA (gym) to work out. I walk to the grocery store…and yes, I carry groceries home (just not $150 worth at a time…more like $15 or $20 worth). If I want to do anything, I start out walking.
  • Sometimes…though rarely…I take the bus. If I do, I walk to the bus stop.

    Credit: “The Carless Generation” article on http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com

  • More often, I’ll take the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit…light rail system) if I want to go downtown San Francisco or other places too far to walk to. Of course, I walk the mile to the BART station and the mile home from the BART station.
  • On very rare occasions I’ve gone places in a car with a friend (still making those out here).
  • I’ve taken a taxi once when I came back from a trip later than expected and didn’t want to lug my luggage the mile to my house late at night.
  • And of course I could always rent a car, but in the 12.5 months I’ve lived here, I haven’t yet rented a car. If I did, I’d walk to the car rental place.
  • To repeat the first point…you do a lot of walking…and that’s a good thing!

What have been the benefits of going without a car for over a year?

  • I’ve lost weight! Remember all that walking? It pays off!
  • I’ve gained stamina and strength…not only from the walking, but carrying groceries or whatever.
  • I don’t have to pay for gas, car insurance, car maintenance, parking, car washes, or anything to do with a car. I’ve avoided spending a LOT of money.
  • I was able to sell my car and use that money for other things.
  • I don’t have to try and find a parking spot. In this area, that’s a big deal.
  • I never get stuck in traffic. I walk right past all the people who are backed up in traffic.
  • I just walk out the door and I’m on my way and never have to worry about a car that’s broken down or not working properly.
  • I’m not polluting the environment.
  • I get to be outside in nature, get more sunlight (and that valuable Vitamin D), and enjoy Mother Earth more.
  • I have slowed down and experience less stress.

Are there any negatives to not owning a car?

  • If you live in a spread-out urban area (like Austin) that doesn’t have good public transportation, not having a car is surely a real challenge.
  • I haven’t shopped at Costco during the whole year (and I really miss it). I just can’t carry enough at a time to make it worth the 2.3 mile walk each way to Costco.
  • Sometimes during the rainy season (which we’re in now) when it’s also cold, windy, and the rain has been pelting for days, I wish I could travel in a car.
  • It may take more time to walk somewhere than to ride in a car (depending on traffic). I have to allow the time to walk somewhere when planning on going somewhere.
  • I can’t give anyone a ride anywhere (maybe that’s a positive!).
  • I can’t transport really large items. If I must have them, I order them online.
  • I don’t go places at night as much as I used to.
  • I don’t venture out to other areas as much as I would if I owned a car.

When I look at the two lists, in sheer numbers there are almost as many negatives as positives, but the positives are a lot more important to me than the negatives. The thing I’ve gotten from going carless for a year is a real sense of freedom. Owning a car is EXPENSIVE and a HASSLE. Walking is CHEAP and EASY plus it has the added benefit of improving your health and fitness.

Will I always be without a car? Not if I move to an area less friendly and accessible to walking than Berkeley and Albany. But for right now, I’m enjoying this freedom of being carless. Try it…you might like it!

7/20/11 NOTE: Of the 50 largest cities in the U.S., San Francisco is now ranked the 2nd most walkable behind New York. Check out the scores at http://www.walkscore.com/rankings. Oakland, which is in the East Bay (where I live) is ranked the 10th most walkable large city. And Austin? My former home town? It is ranked the 31st most walkable large city and scores 91 out of 100. That might be true if you live downtown. Albany, CA, where I live now has a walkable score of 95 out of 100 and is called a “walker’s paradise.” I’d have to agree!

7/21/11 NOTE: Thanks to WordPress for putting this post on the front page! I am loving reading all the comments that you are leaving about your experiences of going carless…or desires to. After 19 months without a car, I’m still loving being carless…at least most of the time!

6/21/13 NOTE: I am still carless…now for 3.5 years…and still loving it!





Multigenerational Connectedness

29 12 2010

We’re all one, right? Brothers and sisters, connected souls, timeless, pure energy, love, and light. So how many of us actually spend time with people outside our age group…give or take 20 years or so? And why don’t we? Is it because it’s uncomfortable? Inconvenient? We feel we have nothing in common with people so outside our age range? How can we truly feel the connectedness with all others if we shun or exclude people much younger or much older than ourselves?

I had the pleasure of spending Christmas with four generations…my 16-month-old grandson, both my daughters (and one son-in-law), my sister and her husband, and my mother and her husband. The age span from youngest to oldest was 83 years. What did I observe and take away from my interactions with each generation in addition to lots of love and gratitude for being together?

  • My 16-month-old grandson – Instant smiles when he sees me, spontaneity, lots of hugs and kisses, fun, big faces that indicate delight, play, playfulness, and sheer joy
  • My two daughters – Pride in making their way in the world so well, joy in watching one be a mother, seriousness about life and drive, self-confidence, kindness, an adult-to-adult relationship, hugs, and smiles
  • My sister – Giggles, ease, familiarity, shared family history, remembering, delight, hugs, consideration, laughing at ourselves, and fun
  • My mother – Comfort, hugs, tears, understanding, patience, honoring, helping, taking time, being cared for, being girlish and playful with friends, and shared family history

Credit: Edanley on Flickr

In being with family from each generation, I got to connect with that child, young woman, middle-aged woman, and aging woman inside me and feel the delights and challenges of each age. I could be silly with my grandson and be totally spontaneous in the moment. I could talk with my daughters about their careers and remember when I was that age and so driven and I could recall how it felt to be a young mother. I could feel a real connection with my sister, who is also experiencing the fears and humor of aging and the delights and wisdom from a life lived so far. And I could be understanding toward and appreciative of my mother, who is slowing down, and delight in watching her giggle and chat with her friends around the table in the dining room of her retirement community.

There is much to be gained by stepping outside our comfort zones and being with people of all ages. I’m grateful for all of these relationships; they all help me to honor the many ages within me and within others. Spending time with others of varying ages reminds us that we are all timeless and are connected through our joy, love, kindness, consideration, acceptance, understanding, and being.





It’s OK to Beat Your Wife or Children in UAE – Just Don’t Leave a Mark

26 10 2010

The highest judicial body in the United Arab Emirates, which has the seventh largest oil reserves in the world, borders on Saudi Arabia, and includes Dubai, says it’s okay to beat your wife and young children…just don’t leave a mark. Here’s the short article about it from the Huffington Post:

Dubai in the UAE - Credit: Neil Emmerson/Getty Images

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The UAE’s highest judicial body says a man can beat his wife and young children as long as the beating leaves no physical marks.

The decision by the Federal Supreme Court shows the strong influence of Islamic law in the Emirates despite its international appeal in which foreign residents greatly outnumber the local population.

The court made the ruling earlier this month in the case of a man who left cuts and bruises on his wife and adult daughter after a beating.

It says the man was guilty of harming the women but noted that Islamic codes allow for “discipline” if no marks are left. It also says children who have reached “adulthood” – approximately puberty – cannot be struck.

The ruling was reported Monday in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper The National.

You’re probably feeling outraged, right? Of course. We live in a “civilized” society and can’t imagine our Supreme Court saying it’s okay for men to beat their wives and children as long as no physical mark is left on them. It is outrageous. Men are allowed to treat women and children in the UAE and in so many countries in the world however they please and women have few rights. And this is a RELIGION saying it is okay to “discipline” them if you don’t leave marks. Is this really the way that God wants women and children to be treated?

We can sit here in moral outrage because this is Islam and somewhere far away, but these things happen right here in the United States and are sanctioned by Christianity (remember the verse about spare the rod, spoil the child?). I wrote a post called Kids in School: Getting an Education Plus a Beating about how school children in the United States are beaten with barbaric looking paddles in schools…and often for things as benign as being late to class or chewing gum. Corporal punishment of children by parents has been banned in 29 countries, including 22 in Europe, but is still legal in all 50 states in the United States. In our country, if a child has physical marks from being beaten and someone alerts social services, the parents may suffer some consequences, but if the parents are able to cover it up, they may get away with it.

So are we any better than the United Arab Emirates? We still legally condone children being beaten in schools in 21 states and at home in all 50 states and often these beatings leave horrible marks (even from school beatings) and cause children to be aggressive and to have psychological problems. This is legally-condoned assault on children. We have a culture where people are becoming more aware of the horrors that women suffer when they are beaten by husbands or boyfriends, but still men crack jokes about “slapping her around” to friends.

When will women and children in the United States and around the world really be treated equally? Why aren’t they now? Men overwhelmingly make and enforce laws in our country and in other countries. We need more men to stand for and with women and children and protect them. No schoolteacher, husband, boyfriend, father, or any man has a right to hit a child or woman. Women and children don’t need to be “disciplined” through hitting; they need to be loved.





Could You Survive the Worst Thing Imaginable?

25 10 2010

Emma, Katie, and Kyle Coble - Credit: Chriscoble.com

Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. The worst did happen to Lori and Chris (her husband)  who were on today’s Oprah show. A truck driver coming around a blind curve on a freeway slammed into the back of Lori’s car, which was stopped in traffic on the freeway.

Lori was in the car with her mother and her three children…Kyle aged 5, Emma aged 4, and Katie, aged 2. All three children were killed in that crash and Lori and her mother survived.

Somehow…with the support of family and friends and by making a pact with each other to not kill themselves and instead to help each other out…Lori and Chris got through it and decided 3 months later they wanted to have another child. One year after the tragedy, they had triplets…two girls and a boy! The children are now 2 1/2 and they brought them out…adorable. They said there is joy in their home again, but they still grieve the loss of the first two girls and boy. Amazingly, they forgave the truck driver, who is also the father of young children.

The story has several lessons:

  • That you can survive even the worst thing imaginable.
  • That supporting each other through tough times is important. The couple immediately went to counseling and learned to tell each other what they were feeling. You could tell that they are very close to each other and loving.
  • That miracles do happen. They had triplets who were the same sex as the three children they lost.
  • To hold your loved ones close and appreciate them and realize what a gift every day with them is.
  • That family and friends are invaluable and can love you and support you through whatever you are going through.

The couple has demonstrated unbelievable courage as has Lori’s mother, who was also featured and is also a survivor of the car crash. She of course has grieved not only for the loss of her grandchildren, but every day did all she could to help her daughter and son-in-law get through this unbelievable tragedy.

So when you’re having a bad day, as we all do, think of all you have to be grateful for and hold those you love and who love you tight…both figuratively and in reality. We’re all here to help each other out and in the end, having that love and support is what matters.

P.S. I originally wrote this (with some additions, which I didn’t share here) as an email to one of my daughters. This story touched me so much, I wanted to share it more broadly.





The Power of a Mother’s Kangaroo Love

3 09 2010

Twenty minutes after twin Jamie Ogg was born prematurely at 27 weeks into his mom Kate’s pregnancy, he was pronounced dead when doctors could not get him to breathe. He was placed across Kate’s bare chest and she held him to her skin while she and husband David spoke to him about his sister Emily and the hopes and dreams they had for him.

David and Kate Ogg with their twins on the Today Show - Credit Today Show website

Kate (who is from Australia along with her husband) continued practicing kangaroo love, where the holding of an infant with their skin next to the mother’s or father’s generates heat and bonding for the baby like he received in the womb…or like a baby kangaroo receives in its mother’s pouch.

After five minutes, they began to notice Jamie move, but the doctor said it was just a bodily reflex. This continued for two hours of the parents holding the baby next to their bare chests and talking gently and lovingly to him. They kept trying to get the doctor to come back in the room and see the baby moving, but the doctor kept insisting the baby was dead. Finally, the doctor consented and was shocked to see the baby alive.

The Today Show featured this family and their story today and I burst into tears upon hearing this story. The babies are now five months old and both are healthy and doing well.

The Today Show’s website quoted Dr. Lisa Eiland of the Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City, who said this seeming miracle may be well grounded in science:

What’s important is the warmth that the mother provides and the stimulation that the baby may have received from hearing the mother’s heartbeat. So those are all things that may have helped the baby in terms of going down the path to living as opposed to the path of death.

My own daughter used this practice with her one-day-old son when he was taken to the ICU after a difficult start. This story and that of my own daughter and grandson are powerful reminders that love…especially that of a mother…can be so powerful to even save a life and how important love, nurturing, and human touch are for our very survival.





Life at a Fast Toddle

31 08 2010

Aren’t toddlers fun to watch? My grandson Sebastian recently turned one. I have so much fun watching him toddle back and forth at his house, mine, the library, the park, wherever. Although his steps may be a bit wobbly, he doesn’t judge himself, hold back, or act fearful because he’s not a perfect walker. He “runs” with abandon, not worrying about whether he is going to fall or run into anything or step on anything. He just does it because he can. He is gleeful and often laughs or scrunches up his face in a delightful look that says “I’m having so much fun!” And he loves having something to carry as he toddles…a basket, a cake pan, a ball, a wooden puzzle piece…just about anything will work. It’s just the act of carrying while walking that is just so cool!

He was at my house several hours yesterday and today while his momma is at a conference and observing and being with him awakens so much in me. I am completely present with him just as I was with his momma and her sister when they were young. I sit on the floor and play with him, dance as he’s dancing, and sit in the sandbox at the park while he scoops sand and watches it fall through his fingers. His attention moves from one thing to another at mind boggling speed, but for the time he’s doing something, he’s completely focused on it.

Sebastian doesn’t fret about where his next meal is coming from or what it’s going to be. He just eats when he’s hungry and says “Nah!” or throws it when he isn’t…sounds fun, doesn’t it? He has no idea when or if he’s going to be taken on a plane, to the park, the grocery store, out for a stroller ride, on the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to go downtown San Francisco, to babygym, or to see Oma (that’s me…German for “grandmother”). Everything is fun and he just rolls with it.

And oh…the dancing. A toddler isn’t self conscious and doesn’t wonder if he looks stupid when he dances. He just does it. When I turn on the Raffi CD or he hears something with a catchy beat, he just starts bouncing up and down, twirling, moving his shoulders, and getting his groove on. He can’t help himself…the boy has to dance.

At 12 months, he doesn’t have life experiences, societal influences, and the developmental “maturity” that can contribute to feeling hatred, anger, disgust, sadness, disappointment, resentment, worry, shame, or any other negative emotion. Life is all about possibility, learning, new experiences, wonder, discovery, delight, laughter, smiling, having fun, hugs and kisses, and toddling at full bore.

The more I observe Sebastian, the more I think he has it right. We can be a lot more present to the joys of life by practicing living life at a fast toddle.





Already Home

9 08 2010

Financial uncertainty, a physical move to an unfamiliar area or to a new house, a health crisis, a divorce or relationship breakup, middle age, and a death can all create a longing for home…a sense of belonging, of the familiar, of claiming a place that is ours, of feeling comforted and comfortable, of feeling safe, and a place we can truly be ourselves.

Barbara Gates - Credit: BarbaraGates.com

This is what Barbara Gates, author of the exquisite book Already Home: A Topography of Spirit and Place, writes about. She struggles to understand her new home in Berkeley, California after a move from New York and to understand the body she calls home as she goes through treatments for breast cancer and strives to live while being mother to a five-year-old daughter and wife to her lawyer husband.

Barbara does extensive research on the house she and her husband remodel limb by limb and on the colorful Ocean View neighborhood she lives in. She wants to know who lived there before she and her neighbors did and what home was like for those people. At first the search is about the physicality of the place, but “home” and “inhabit” take on much bigger…and yet much simpler…meaning.

In an interview with Shambhala Publications, Barbara is asked about finding home right we are and she replies:

Already Home tells a story of neighborliness, about finding connection — with one’s family, oneself, and the folks next door, with whatever presents itself, no matter how off-putting or surprising. I find connection with a homeless woman who sleeps in our family car, a rat in our refrigerator, the bay, trees and streets, and, learning the vast history of my home place, with generations of neighborhood ancestors. In contrast to our global ethic of opposition and reprisal, Already Home offers a much-needed taste of underlying commonality grounded in a sense of home, always available right here and now.

In that same interview, Barbara (who is a Buddhist) talks of interviewing Buddhist monks, who call themselves the “Homeless Ones” because they leave behind their homes. Barbara tells of how that homelessness showed her a different meaning of home:

I was reminded that a house is not a home. No house of bricks or boards could offer me the enduring safety and sustenance I yearned for.  As I became intimate with the place where I lived and settled more fully into a wide sense of myself, I began to glimpse an inner sense of home. No matter who we are, through a shift in perception, we can see it.  We are already home.

In reading this book, I connect with Barbara’s search for home. I, too, recently left behind an area (Austin, Texas), which I had called home for 20 years, to move to the Berkeley area to live near my daughter, son-in-law, and almost one-year-old grandson. This area is so different from my birth home area of east Tennessee and my adopted home area of central Texas. It is much cooler here, the yards are lush with flowers and greenery, and the homes are

A Berkeley Home - Credit: Trip Advisor Website

charming. People I pass on the streets often say “Isn’t it beautiful here? I feel so lucky to live here.” There is a relaxation, comfort, and sense of gratitude that comes with these perfect temperatures and beauty every where you look. If you walk up into the Berkeley hills, you get gorgeous views of the San Francisco Bay.

Almost anywhere you can hear the whoosh of the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) trains zipping through the community and offering easy transportation to most anywhere you’d like to go. I sold my car before I moved out here and walk or take the BART (or the occasional bus) everywhere and the worries and expense of gas, car payments, car repairs, car insurance, parking, and traffic are gone for me.

Besides a freedom and sense of adventure in getting around, home takes on additional new meaning for me here. It is being a grandmother who gets to really be a part of my grandson’s life. It is being able to walk over to my daughter’s home after yoga at the YMCA or to the local farmer’s market with her and to have conversations in person that used to be months apart. It is cool air blowing through open windows in the summer and walks at any time of day and never breaking a sweat. It is exploring downtown San Francisco and new neighborhoods…each with their own charm. Home here is a scaling down of things and an expansion of sensual delight, new experiences, and sense of awe and possibility.

I’ve moved enough times in my life to not feel an attachment to any one building as “home”. Instead, I am developing the sense of home that noted Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of (and Barbara Gates quotes in her book):

In East Asia, we speak of the human body as a mini-cosmos. The cosmos is our home, and we can touch it by being aware of our body. Meditation is to be still: to sit still, to stand still, and to walk with stillness. Meditation means to look deeply, to touch deeply so we can realize we are already home.

I did a slow, walking meditation through the Berkeley hills this morning and connected with all the outward beauty I saw. The beauty inside me, which has always been, yearns for deep recognition and reconnection. It is that place that calls out to me and reminds me that I am already home…no matter where I go.





A 40th High School Reunion in Maryville, Tennessee

18 06 2010

There’s nothing like 40 years to give you some perspective. I attended the 40th high school reunion of  the Maryville High School class of 1970 on 6/11/10 in Maryville, Tennessee. Over a third of our class showed up along with some spouses and partners. About 8% of our class members are dead…something that seems inconceivable to me. What was their path…and that of their family and friends…that it included a life cut short? Death is an equalizer, showing no favor to the popular classmates who have passed on.

For those us still kicking it, for the most part, our personalities really haven’t changed all that much. The outgoing ones are still outgoing, the quiet ones are still quiet, and the nerdy ones are still nerdy. Not only is death an equalizer, so is aging. It’s fascinating to see how people age differently.

Overall, we look pretty good, but if you look closely, you see a few more wrinkles on some faces. You don’t have to look closely to see the extra pounds that many of us (myself included) now carry. One guy and one gal from the class who are on Facebook have…since the reunion…listed the “Hotties” and it feels like we’re in high school all over again.

There were a few surprises like how many people have never had children or have never been married. A few people are gay…something that wasn’t on my radar at all in high school. At least half of those in attendance still live in the area. Some lived other places, but came back. It is a charming town, so this is understandable.

People were upbeat and I didn’t really hear stories of tragedy and suffering and turmoil unless I knew about them and asked. At our age, I’m sure most people have experienced many ups and downs. One of our classmates dropped dead of a brain aneurysm 11 years ago and his wife…also one of our classmates…talked of the rough road she’d had in raising their children alone afterward.

I heard some talk of careers, but mostly there was talk of children and grandchildren and where you’ve lived and wow, it’s great to see you. After 40 years, the conversations distilled down to what is really important in our lives. We also reminisced about painting the bridge red and black before rival football games with Alcoa High and how tough our English teacher Ms. Miller (whose daughter was one of our classmates and was there) was…and how grateful we were when we went to college.

My Senior High School Photo

What’s really neat is that our spirits are ageless. We may be 57 or 58 years old, but we’re still giggly and fun-loving and witty and engaging and curious. If I closed my eyes…or simply looked past the extra pounds and wrinkles and hair dye…I saw those same classmates who I knew and loved in high school.

A 40th high school reunion is not only a reunion with classmates, but also with the self you were all those years ago. I could instantly erase 40 years of living and step back to being that girl who was living life to the fullest and had the whole world ahead of her. Maybe I’ll decide to stay 17 and continue to see a world of opportunity available to me. Maryville, Maryville High, my family, and those classmates instilled in me that sense of possibility…and I’ll forever be that girl.





Are Your Human Rights More Right Than Mine?

31 01 2010

When I say HUMAN RIGHTS, you may think about a trafficked sex slave, a child soldier, a raped woman prosecuted for adultery in a Muslim country, a woman in China who is pregnant with a second child being forcibly taken to a hospital and given an abortion, and the people in earthquake-ravaged Haiti who need food, water, safety, and shelter.

But what about the basic human right to live in peace and quiet in your own home? Most cities…including my new city of Berkeley, California…have ordinances that proclaim that this is a right of residents. Even my own apartment lease declares this one of the rules that residents must abide by.

For over a month I have lived under a family of four who choose not to respect this basic human right.  I moved here from out of state and never saw this apartment except on videotape before moving in. I rented the apartment next door and due to the mold there, was moved by my landlord into this apartment…completely unaware that I’d be moving under a family with two young children.

The family plays drums (which the lease says is not allowed), loud thumping music, allows the boys to run up and down the halls (this sounds like a stampede since there are hardwood floors and no carpet), slams windows and doors, stomps around, argues loudly…everything is done LOUDLY. They tell me they are just living their life.

Who’s to say that me living my life doesn’t include playing my stereo really loudly at 3 a.m. or that I have to turn up my television as loud as it goes because that’s the way I like it or I need to plug my amplifier into my keyboard and play it loud so I can really get the feel of the music when I play it? (I haven’t done any of those things, but sometimes it is tempting.)

I have spoken twice with the mother/wife. The last time, when I calmly explained that the noise was unbearable, she screamed at me and threatened me. She said I had “no right to come from Texas and tell her to be quiet in HER neighborhood.” She also informed me that her children were going to continue doing what they were doing that was so loud and they were going to do it ALL DAY LONG.

My neighbor asserted to me that she and her family have MORE rights than me because they were here first and they are a family (and I’m a single woman). I pay rent here too…no less than they do…and my lease reads the same as theirs. I’m protected by the same city laws as they are that give me the right to peace and quiet in my own home.

I’m saying all this not to complain, but to show how absurd it is when one person proclaims they have more rights than another person and that their rights are more important than another person’s. You could substitute anything going on in the world in exchange for this story and see how ridiculous it is…and yet we do it all the time. My neighbor and her family have a sense of entitlement and so they do whatever they want to do without any regard for my rights.

My landlord/apartment owner has little regard for my rights also…rights that they even decreed in the rules we all signed. Instead of asking these people to leave, I am being let out of my lease. The neighbors will then be allowed to intrude on the rights of the next person(s) who live(s) where I do now. And me? I am spending my time, energy, and money to move to another place where my basic human right of peace and quiet in my own home will be respected.

How often do we let the people who intrude on our human rights or those of others continue? Or perhaps we perceive the person who had their rights violated as a complainer and the violaters just bully us into letting them do whatever they feel they are entitled to do?

In my case, I could go to the city and complain and could probably force the issue so that the people above me are evicted and I could stay here. I choose instead to no longer rent an apartment from a landlord who doesn’t back up the rights they guaranteed me and to no longer live under people who are so disrespectful and scream at me to my face that their rights matter more than mine.

For 5 weeks I’ve felt victimized by these people…the neighbors and the non-acting landlords. Now I’m taking my power back and moving to a place that will be a refuge.  Peace and quiet are an important basic human right to me. I need it to survive…and to thrive.

Do you think your rights are more important…or more right…than those of other people? Are you respecting the rights of others?





Reflection on Human Rights Day

10 12 2009

Today is Human Right’s Day. Take a moment to reflect.

  • Do you respect the human rights of those you deal with on a day-to-day basis?
  • Are you respectful, kind, considerate, thoughtful, encouraging, and supportive?
  • Do you listen to, acknowledge, and treat respectfully people who think, act, look, speak, or practice religion differently from you?
  • Do you ever give any thought to the rights of those in other countries?
  • Do you care if women can vote, hold public office, work, drive a car, have protections through the legal system, love and marry who they want, and speak their minds?
  • Do you care if children are allowed to be children and go to school, wait until they are adults to marry, have nourishment, have clean water, and are free from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse?
  • Have you considered what life would be like if you had been born to poor parents in Afghanistan or Mali or Haiti?
  • Have you considered what it must be like to be hungry, to have no fresh water, to have no parents, to have AIDS, to have no access to the Internet, and to have no hope and feel useless in the world?

We are each important in the world. We each have rights just because of being born. Be aware. Care. Acknowledge. Listen. Then allow your heart to open and do what you can. Even a word of encouragement can make a difference.

Human Rights are not just for a day. Every day we must do what we can to help our brothers and sisters in the world. Every person is valuable, is needed, and is important…just like you.





A Would-Be Robber and The Power of Love to Overcome Fear and Desperation

24 10 2009

It was October 19, 2009. 23-year-old Greg Smith was out of work, desperate, and needed money. He held Angela Montez at gun point, fully intending to rob a cash advance store, but something miraculous happened. Angela, a mother and grandmother, started crying and began talking to Greg. She told him “‘No, you don’t have to do this. Nothing can be bad enough for you to lower yourself to something so bad.” Even though the cash register was open and Greg could have taken the money and ran, he didn’t. His heart softened and he got down on his knees and prayed with Angela for ten minutes. The two even hugged. He left without taking the money.

Oprah had Greg, who is now in Marion County Jail in Indiana, and Angela, who was in the Harpo Studios with Oprah, on her show on Friday. What Greg Smith - From Oprah websiteunfolded there…and what had unfolded during the planned robbery…was a testimony to what can happen when people let go of fear and see the good in each other.

Out of work for a year, Greg said that he felt like “less than a man” because he couldn’t provide for his family. His driver’s license had been suspended so he lost his job, which required him to drive. Feeling like he had no options, he robbed someone the week before and has since apologized to the woman he robbed.

Something really changed in him when he tried to rob the store where Angela worked. Greg said:

Honestly, it was a feeling when she started talking to me, like I told her, no disrespect to my mother or anyone in my family, but noone has ever talked to me the way that she did. She talked to me like a mother would to her child or a grandmother would to her grandchild. She made me feel comfortable and something just made me open up to her. I don’t know what it was. And I felt honestly something that I had never felt before. Honestly, I don’t even think it was Miss Angela talking to me; I actually think it was the man upstairs talking to me through her.

Upon hearing that, Angela said she wanted to give him a big hug, she forgave him, and that she understood. She told him to take the punishment for what he’s done and “…don’t let the past stop you from being great in the future.” Greg teared up and said “I”m sorry, Miss Angela.” He said he never meant to hurt her. During the encounter in the store, he even gave her the bullet in his gun.

Angela was touched and said “See that is remorse. He has a good heart and good love. You know he has served in the service. You have give four years of your life to our country; we love that. Thank you.” Greg’s mouth was trembling; he too, was touched at the power of forgiveness and love from Angela.

Oprah also had Donna, Greg’s mother, and Sherrie, Greg’s long-time girlfriend and mother of their two-year-old daughter, on the show. Donna saw the video of Greg walking out of the store after the attempted armed robbery on the eleven p.m. news and urged him to turn himself in.

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Donna knew Greg was depressed and was suicidal at one point because he had no work. Yesterday was Greg’s daughter’s birthday and he was distraught that he had no money to buy her a present.

Sherrie works, goes to school, and pays all the bills. She and Greg are both 23 years old and have been together since they were 15. She said she never thought he would do this and partially blamed herself, saying she felt she pushed him over the edge with nagging him to get work.

Donna told her son she loved him and said that she knew he has a big heart. She was sorry she was so wrapped up in her own problems that she didn’t help him. Greg told her he was not mad at her, didn’t blame her, and loved her. He apologized to Sherrie for putting her through this. Their daughter Mya was there…on her 2nd birthday…so precious. She saw Greg on the monitor and gleefully exclaimed “Daddy! Daddy!” Greg said:

I’ve always been a firm believer in God and Christ, but I’ve never walked that walk. I’ve felt like for the longest time I was in control of everything and everything was supposed to go my way. I feel like a lot of the things that I did have before the situation I’m in now I took for granted and I lost it.

Oprah wrapped up the story and told Greg:

We’re hoping the best will come to you really. You seem to have a good heart and you didn’t harm Angela in that circumstance and allowed yourself to have your heart open enough that you could put the gun down and walk away. I know Angela is grateful and we all are grateful too that it worked out this way.

Greg, Sherrie, Mya, Donna, and even Angela have all had their lives impacted because of the economy and the desperation that people can feel from being out of work and not having money. It doesn’t help that Greg is a young black man without a college education and without the creativity and resources to get the help he needs. He is in jail now and is charged with six felony counts and two misdemeanors. On October 22 a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf; he does not have an attorney.

By letting go of fear, opening her heart, and seeing Greg as a human being who needed understanding rather than as a criminal, Angela forevermore changed her life, Greg’s life, and the lives of his mother, girlfriend, and daughter. Most likely, Angela’s love and forgiveness have impacted thousands or millions of others who have heard this story, which has been repeated on other shows in addition to Oprah’s. Angela and Greg are each testaments to us that love is a much more powerful force than fear and that what appears bad can be transformative for good in our lives.





I Pray for Grace

13 10 2009

Do you know someone who thinks about God or religion or spirituality differently from you? How do you feel about that? Are you respectful toward their beliefs? Are they respectful toward yours?

Did you pray to Buddha? Someone asked me this today. I was sharing how I have been meditating and doing spiritual work to affirm and attract Praying - Purchased from iStockPhotoprosperity. I incorporate various precepts in my spiritual practice. I love the  Buddhist concepts of loving-kindness, that suffering ceases when we let go of our attachment to ideas, people, places, and things, and that we can increase our own peacefulness (thereby increasing the peacefulness in the world) by practicing mindfulness and allowing life to flow. For some reason, these precepts are threatening to my Christian friend and he often mocks me not so subtly as if to say “Do you think Buddha can hear you?”

Why do we do this? Isn’t there enough derision, separation, and I’m-better-than-you (and so is my religion) mentality in this world without mocking someone’s beliefs…and especially the beliefs of someone we’re close to? Each time I encounter this, I feel battered and feel a need to hunker down and redouble my meditation. I…and my brothers and sisters of the world…really need instead so much healing, understanding, acceptance, tolerance, love, kindness, and grace.

Here’s Michael Franti singing what I ask for right now. I pray for grace…for myself, for my friend, and for my brothers and sisters all over the world.

Thanks to Gerry Starnes for sending me the link to this wonderful video.





Don’t Stop Believin’ – Formerly Homeless Journey Lead Singer and Harvard Student

5 10 2009

The early 80s Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin” was sung on the Oprah show today by their amazing new lead singer (and formerly homeless person in the Phillippines) Arnel Pineda, who was discovered by one of the band members in a video Arnel posted on YouTube. Arnel, who had to fend for himself on the streets after his encouraging mother died when he was 13, is a testament to the power of those words, now living a life he says is way bigger than he could ever have imagined.

The song provided a perfect setup for the story of Khadijah, an African-American young woman who was homeless from the time she was six and slept with her mother and sister in bus stations, on the streets, and in many Khadijah - Homeless to Harvard (Oprah website)shelters. She attended 12 schools in 12 years and was encouraged by her mother to better her life through education. She took this advice to heart, studying hard, and spending a lot of time in the Los Angeles Public Library reading every book she could.

When Khadijah was in the 10th grade, she was determined to finish out her schooling at Jefferson High School, and got up at 4:30 a.m. every day to make the two-hour trip from Skid Row in Los Angeles to school. In May she graduated with honors and is now a freshman at Harvard University. Here’s part of the essay she wrote as part of her admission process. You can read the entire essay at Oprah.com:

Being homeless has given me the skills I need to succeed on the pathway towards my higher education pursuits and life-long goals. My experiences have made me a dedicated student both inside and outside of the classroom. I do not let anything stop me from achieving my goals. Hearing such negativity where I have lived has enabled me to focus on my goals and remain optimistic, even when faced with grave adversity. Having to depend on myself for food has enabled me to take charge of my education. I have learned to be resourceful and diligent and I am confident in saying that I am a very self-motivated and determined individual that will stop at nothing to receive an education. When I go to college, I know that this acquired knowledge and skills will enable me to succeed in whatever I do.

Oprah was so moved by Khadijah’s story that she invited Khadijah to accompany her the next time she visits the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and tell her inspiring story to the girls there.

Arnel and Khadijah…two formerly homeless people with little to hope for. They both had mothers who believed in them and encouraged them, they both believed in themselves, and they both were willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.

No matter what your situation, no matter how hard or hopeless it may be, don’t stop believing. You never know what miracle is waiting for you!

Here’s Arnel and Journey…





Congratulations to the New Graduates…in Prison

28 09 2009

A letter to the women in the Lockhart, Texas prison who just graduated from the Truth be Told program

You had no choice but to wear matching dull blue v-neck formless pullover tops and pants, white t-shirts, and tennis shoes. I had the freedom to choose to wear a peridot-green peasant blouse, black capri pants, and close-toed (a requirement) black heels. I wore jewelry. You did not. I freely came in from the outside, handed over my driver’s license, and was escorted into the gymnasium with 17 other women and 2 men who chose (and were pre-screened) to attend your graduation. You, too, were escorted there, but after graduation, you stayed in the prison. I went home.

Despite our marked differences in freedom, we came together to celebrate your graduation from the Truth Be Told program. I recognized the 10 of you in the Talk to Me Speaking Class from when I had the privilege of evaluating five of your this-is-my-life speeches. Many of you ran to me, hugged me, and said how happy you were that I was there. I felt real joy in seeing you and delight in sitting between two of you. Three of you spoke and my heart filled with pride that you so openly and skillfully shared the story of what came before that led to you being in prison.

Three of the nine women from the Talk to Me Circle Class also spoke and shared your stories and three women from the Talk to Me Movement Class delighted us with your expressiveness and impressive moves in the Michael Jackson “Beat It” number. Charlotte leaned over and told me it was the first time she’d heard music (from a loud speaker) in three years.

Walking through History - Purchased from iStockPhotoYou told us stories of being sexually abused as a child, a mother who allowed such abuse toward you and even toward your children, a father who beat your mother, using drugs to dim emotional pain, being forced to sell drugs or to prostitute yourself to support your children, being beaten by men who you thought loved you, never feeling loved, joining a gang to find a sense of belonging, having to give up children, being in and out of prison, and more.

Your stories touched everyone who attended. We gathered afterward to name our feelings: grateful, joyful, amazed at your courage and honesty, a sense of sisterhood with you, pride, recognition and acknowledgment of your pain and what you’ve been through, and honored to have had the opportunity to bear witness to your stories.

The Truth be Told volunteers who facilitate the classes are amazing: Peggy Lamb, Julie Wylie, Natalie Weinstein, Katie Ford, Mary Gifford, and co-founders Carol Waid and Nathalie Sorrell. You are fortunate to have women who are so passionate, so talented, so intelligent, so giving, and so caring guide you in walking your life toward making healthy choices and feeling hopeful for a better tomorrow.

As amazing as your facilitators are, I wonder if you ladies in the Truth be Told program realize how much you give to those who work with you. We feel your humanness, that you are our sisters, and that but for different life choices and circumstances, the roles could be reversed…we could be in prison and you could be on the outside. We see your courage, your vulnerability, your willingness to be open and honest, your admission of bad choices, and your desire to turn your lives around. We admire you, we are Truth Be Told Logoin awe of you, we are touched by you, and we take you with us as we leave.

The experience of being in prison with you and hearing your stories lasts long after we leave the facility.  We share our experience with those we care about and they share it with still others. Something changes in us. We develop an even deeper understanding that we are all one and must do what we can to lift each other up.

Thank you, dear Truth be Told graduates. Take in all the applause we gave you at the graduation and continue to give you every time we think of you. You are changing your lives…and ours…for the better. And that’s the truth.

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AARP Wants All You Cool Hip Peeps (and You Don’t Have to Be 50)

23 09 2009

At the cool, hip age of 50, no one thinks they are old enough to be invited to be part of an organization that was formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons. But it is a rite of passage…AARP finds you, offers you some cool benefits, articles, and information and for a few measly bucks, you cast your pride aside and join. Now AARP is doing soEthel Percy Andrus - AARP Foundermething else really cool.

Their new venture is inspired by AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus (1884-1967). The first woman high school principal in California, Dr. Andrus founded the National Retired Teachers Association in 1947 and AARP in 1958. Her motto, which is still the motto of AARP, is “To serve, not to be served.” Her life of service inspires the new Create the Good program:

Her belief in collective voice and action is at the heart of Create The Good. She believed that anyone, anywhere, anytime could make a difference.

When you visit www.CreateTheGood.org, you can:

  1. Find Good Things to Do by entering in your zipcode
  2. Use DIY (Do-It-Yourself) toolkits or your own ideas to do something good
  3. Post an Opportunity to do good

Some examples of the 629 opportunities in Austin are:

  • Be a tax-aide volunteer
  • Offer clerical assistance to a hospice
  • Help out with programs to empower girls in math, science, engineering, and technology
  • Help clean up a park

Check it out! You can be a part of the AARP program and contribute to creating good where you live…even if you’re way too young in years (or at heart) to join AARP!