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.

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Zappos: Delivering Shoes, Profits, and Happiness

31 07 2011

I’ve done it. You probably have too…bought a pair of shoes from Zappos.com. In 1999 buying a pair of shoes online seemed like a C-RAZY idea. Really? Internet entrepreneur Tony Hsieh and a few of his friends (and to-be colleagues), thought it would work, came up with the name Zappos, and started forming the company. Ten years later Amazon bought Zappos “in a deal valued at over $1.2 billion on the day of closing,” per Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh in his excellent book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose. Just how do you go from zero to over $1 billion in annual gross merchandise sales…and of SHOES (not big ticket items)…in just ten years?

Tony’s journey was not for the lazy, weak-willed, doubting, or uncommitted. Many times the company came to the brink of collapse and he kept it afloat by infusing it with some of the considerable money he got from the sale of his previous company…banner ad network LinkExchange…when it was sold to Microsoft in 1998 for $265 million. And as that money ran out, he sold his own personal real estate.

Tony and his colleagues made the decision in 2003 to make the Zappos brand be about the very best customer service possible. This meant some big, bold decisions like carrying their own inventory so they could ship shoes faster and more accurately. They decided not to outsource customer service overseas, even though that would’ve been cheaper, and they relocated their headquarters to Las Vegas. Tony emailed all employees in 2004 to ask them to contribute 100-500 words about what the Zappos culture meant to them and since then, every year a new Zappos Culture Book is produced, which is given to prospective employees, vendors, and customers. They encouraged employees to anonymously submit questions and the answers are posted in their monthly employee newsletter Ask Anything.

Oh…and they got a $100 million credit line from Wells Fargo and two other banks. All of these changes meant they went from the brink of collapse to $1 billion in gross sales in 2008…two years ahead of their original (and seemingly impossible) goal of 2010.

Zappos succeeds by delivering happiness…to employees, vendors, and customers. They offer free shipping both ways…if a pair of shoes doesn’t fit or you don’t like it, ship it back for free. And oh, by the way, you have 365 days to return them. Their call center and warehouse are staffed and running 24 hours a day every day. Sometimes they surprise (i.e., delight) customers and ship shoes overnight (sometimes 8 hours after they order them) at no charge. I’ve actually experienced this…so cool!

The company culture and the brand are intertwined…one feeds the other and leads to a lot of really happy people. They are thoroughly committed to the ten company core values:

  1. Deliver WOW through service
  2. Embrace and drive change
  3. Create fun and a little weirdness
  4. Be adventurous, creative, and open-minded
  5. Pursue growth and learning
  6. Build open and honest relationships with communication
  7. Build a positive team and family spirit
  8. Do more with less
  9. Be passionate and determined
  10. Be humble

The Zappos mission became “To live and deliver WOW.” As a result of these values, the WOW mission, and the incredible results that Zappos was achieving, Tony Hsieh started to be in demand as a speaker. In 2007 he started studying the science of happiness. He found that happiness is evolutionary.

Tony Hsieh - Credit: DeliveringHappiness.com

The lowest level of happiness is all about chasing pleasure. The more evolved level of happiness is passion, which comes through flow and engagement. And the most evolved type of happiness is higher purpose, which is about being part of something bigger than yourself. The Zappos mission evolved to “Zappos is about delivering happiness to the world.

Tony wrote the Delivering Happiness book in 2009. It debuted in 2010 at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List and stayed on that list for 27 consecutive weeks. There is now a Delivering Happiness movement, with information at www.deliveringhappiness.com. A Delivering Happiness bus has toured the nation and the CEO of Delivering Happiness Jenn Lim is also called the Chief Happiness Officer. In January 2010, a couple of months after the deal with Amazon closed, Zappos was ranked #15 in Fortune magazine’s annual “Best Companies to Work For” list.

Tony Shieh in action is an incredible example of conscious capitalism, which seeks to enhance corporate profits and also (and perhaps through the) advance the quality of life for people. He leaves you with these thoughts, which are his guiding principles in life:

What would happen if everyone in the world acted in the same way? What would the world look like? What would the net effect be on the overall happiness in the world?

He challenges us all to choose to “…be a part of a movement to help make the world a happier and better place.” WILL YOU MAKE THAT CHOICE?



Here’s Tony talking about his journey:





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!





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.





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.





100,000!!!

24 03 2010

My blog surpassed 100,000 hits today. It’s a big number. What other things are 100,000?

  • Wikipedia says 100,000“…is the current world record for the number of digits of pi memorized by a human being.”
  • On 11/4/09, Apple announced that there were over 100,000 applications available on the App Store.
  • In July 2005, there were 241 American cities with populations over 100,000 per infoplease.com. 62 of those are in California.
  • The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics was stocked with 100,000 condoms…an average of 14 condoms for each of the 7,000 athletes.
  • The 100,000th 2010 Chevrolet Camaro…an inferno orange SS according to Autoblog.com…rolled off the assembly line the first week in March, 2010.
  • In August 2008, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope completed its 100,000th orbit during its 18th year of being in service.
  • The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) has an initiative called The 100,000 Lives Campaign “…to significantly reduce morbidity and mortality in American health care” and to save 100,000 lives.
  • According to wordstadiums.com, there are 45 stadiums throughout the world that seat 100,000 or more people. 17 of those are in the U.S. Of those 17, speed racing makes up 11, one is used for horse racing (Churchill Downs), and the others are college football stadiums (Texas, Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, and Tennessee).
  • Scientific American reported in December 2009 that humans have been eating grains for at least 100,000 years.
  • The weekend before the historic 3/21/10 House vote (and passage) of the healthcare bill, calls to House representatives were close to 100,000 per hour.
  • On 3/4/10, the Red Cross provided its 100,000th vaccination in Haiti to prevent disease following the 7.0 earthquake on January 12, 2010.

I’ve put a lot of time, energy, and care into writing this blog. Thanks to all my loyal readers and those who just stumbled on the page because they were searching for something they care about. I hope you’ll come back…and maybe even subscribe to my blog (see the flashing box at the top right of this page).

Here’s to 100,000 more reads and to all you good people who are reading! Keep the comments coming…I love the dialogue!





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.





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.





The Biology of Belief: Moving Beyond the Survival of the Fittest

23 08 2009

The human body has over 50 trillion cells. The world population today is 6.8 billion. Our bodies have more than seven thousand times as many cells as there are people in the whole world! What can science teach us about how to survive, thrive, and co-exist and what spiritual implications can be found?

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published November 24, 1859 and is considered the basis for the evolution theory of biology. His idea was that populations evolve over time through a process of natural selection or what has been dubbed “the survival of the fittest.” German political philosopher and co-creator of the theory of communism Friedrich Engels said in 1872 that:

Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom.

Dr. Bruce H. Lipton, trained as a cell biologist and now bridging science and spirit, talks… in his thought-provoking and ground-breaking book The Biology of Belief …of two new biomedical research fields:

  1. Signal transduction science, which “…recognizes that the fate and behavior of an organism is directly linked to its perception of the environment. In simple terms, the character of our life is based upon how we perceive it.”
  2. Epigenetics, which “…is the science of how environmental signals select, modify, and regulate gene activity. This new awareness reveals that our genes are constantly being remodeled in response to life experiences.”

Dr. Lipton has demonstrated in his own research that the nucleus (where DNA is) of a cell can be removed and the cell can still function for a time…until it needs to repair itself…and then it breaks down and dies. He theorizes that the real “brain” of the cell is in the membrane, which interacts with the environment (this is the signal transduction mentioned above). He concludes that “the cell’s operations are primarily molded by its interaction with the environment, not its genetic code.”

Gaia: The World by Lisa Hunt

Gaia: The World by Lisa Hunt

Based on this New Biology, Dr. Lipton suggests that we need to move beyond Darwinian theory…which focuses on the importance of individuals (or an individual cell’s DNA)…to one that stresses the importance of the community (or the connection and reference of the individual cell to its environment).

He talks of the Gaia Hypothesis, which was developed by independent research scientist Richard Lovelock in the 1960s as a result of his NASA work on methods to detect life on Mars. Lovelock postulated in his 1979 book (which was updated in 2000 with several additional sequels including one which came out in 2009) Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth that the earth and all its species constitute one interactive, living organism…a superorganism.

The implications of that are huge. As Dr. Lipton points out, the Newtonian version of the universe is linear. A -> B -> C -> D etc. This is the system that western doctors follow…that we have a universe that is just made up of ordered matter and they must prescribe a pill to act on that matter. Prescription drugs are used at one of these points to try and intercept and repair the defective element in our system.

The quantum universe…or Gaia…vision of the world is holistic, interconnected, and energetic. In the above example, a prescription drug used to treat point B not only treats that element, but also interacts with other elements in our body…thus, we get side effects. Eastern doctors, on the other hand, treat patients with a holistic view, recognizing that the universe…and the human body…is made up of energy. Acupuncture, for example, influences health by stimulating vital Globe in hands smallerenergy that may be blocked in the body.

Dr. Lipton says that an organism…and by implication the larger superorganism of our whole world…has two survival mechanisms: growth and protection. The organism can’t do both at the same time. If it uses all its energy in a fight-or-flight response, growth is inhibited.

Growth requires an open exchange between the organism and its environment; protection requires that the organism close down and wall itself off.  War, violence, depletion of environmental resources, close-mindedness, ideological control (by religions and governments), prejudice, illness, depression, and fear are all examples of what happens to individuals and larger organisms (like countries) that go into protective mode and close down.

What’s the take away from Dr. Lipton of this New Biology? That we must change our competitive, dog-eat-dog, one-up-manship, survival of the fittest paradigm to one that supports everyone and everything on this planet…a paradigm of interconnection, openness, growth, and survival of the most loving.

Thanks to Dr. Wayne Dyer for referring me and many others to this truly elucidating and ground-breaking book.





Through the Eyes of My Daughter’s Newborn Child

18 08 2009
Circles of Blessing by Ishara de Garis

Circles of Blessing by Ishara de Garis

Awe. Delight. Ecstasy. Contentment. Pride. Gratitude. Joy. These are feelings I have at becoming a grandmother for the very first time and seeing my daughter Valerie become a mother to Sebastian, who entered the world at 1:29 a.m. PDT today.

I remember how awestruck I was to hold Valerie (and my first-born, her sister Julie) in my arms after giving birth. You can see a thousand tomorrows in the eyes of a newborn, but they remind you with their urgent cries for food and love that this moment is all that matters. A new baby doesn’t understand the concept of “Wait until I finish watching this TV show” or “I’m not feeling well so maybe some other time.” A baby knows now…and now…and now and calls to us to be present so we won’t miss the precious moments that so quickly pass.

A new baby is open…to love, to encouragement, to learning, to being. As a parent, you have the privilege and responsibility to influence who this child becomes. A new baby is trusting…that you’ll take care of him, keep him safe, meet his needs, teach him, and nurture him. You have the opportunity with a new baby to share with him the good in your life and the hope to shield him from the challenging.

One has a sense of wonder looking into the heart and soul of a newborn baby, who has no sense of prejudice, hatred, resentment, or ego. That baby is pure and innocent…the embodiment of all that is good and true in the world.

Sebastian's First Photo

Sebastian's First Photo

One considers all the hopes and dreams you have for a child who extends your physical time on this earth by literally carrying part of you in him. You wonder if he’ll play football or oboe, be on the debate team or the chess team, be married and have children or have a gay partner. There are so many possibilities, so many doors that can open, so many forks in the road that can lead him down paths unimagined as you hold him in your arms.

You’ve yet to make the many inevitable mistakes you’ll make as a parent even as you give your very best to this child. You’ve yet to have a teenage child scream “I hate you!” or take the car without permission and wreck it or fall for someone who doesn’t love them back. You’ve yet to have your heart broken as they make mistakes that have difficult consequences and to feel your heart soar as they make choices that lead to unexpectedly good results. You’ve yet to have your child blame you for their lot in life, swallow your pride, and know in your heart you did the very best you could. And you’ve yet to have your child make countless homemade cards that say “You’re the best mom ever” and to ease your load when you’re tired by dressing as combination wait staff/cooks in your high heels and impossibly large (for them) clothes and welcome you to Mom’s Night Out Restaurant with a menu of everything they know how to cook.

At the very beginning there is love bigger than you ever imagined…and the desire to never let these moments and these feelings go.

Sebastian, welcome to the world. You have two loving, caring, accomplished, super intelligent, personable, independent, creative, kind, and grateful parents. May life always be as full of wonder, delight, and love for you as it is right now. Thanks for making me a grandma. I promise to be the very best grandma I can be and to be present to each of our precious moments together. This is going to be fun! I love you, Sebastian.

…Your Oma





Let It Go!

9 08 2009

Full MontyA couple of years ago I played the zany piano player (that’s me in the ridiculous blond wig) in the music theater production of The Full Monty. The plot…similar to that in the movie…is that a bunch of laid off, ragamuffin steel workers stage a production where they sing, dance, and strip to make money. They build confidence and decide to just go for it…to do the full monty. In the last number, they sing “Let it go, let it go, loosen up, yeah, let it go. Let it go, let it go, it’s all right.”

Tuesday, 7/21 was a pivotal day for me…I knew it was time to LET IT GO and change how I responded to an ongoing, difficult situation. I called Gerry…a very spiritual person who makes a living guiding people…and asked if I could see him that day. For 1.5 hours I told him my story…the one I’ve told so many times…the one that is WHO I AM. You know…we all have it…THAT story that we think defines us.

And yet it DOESN’T. Define us. UNLESS. WE. LET. IT. I’m just tired of letting it. I am tired of dragging around that story. It makes me feel low-energy, powerless, and helpless.

I decided that day to get rid of all the stuff I have been moving from place to place for years that tells the tale of that story. I looked up the definition on dictionary.com of what I wanted to do:

Purge: to rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; cleanse; purify

StuffSo for 2.5 weeks, all I did (well, almost anyway) was go through old stuff. I made a huge pile (the picture doesn’t do it justice) on a round stone table in my living room. The stuff consisted of journal pages of pain that I ripped out one by one (that felt good!), caretaker notes, work notes, cards (the ones I didn’t want to keep), many many notes about what I want to be when I grow up…wouldn’t that be NOW???…that were made during countless self-help seminars and readings of self-help books, image pages, and more.

In the process of going through years of papers, I also went through closets and drawers and took a backseat full of stuff to Goodwill.

I not only made this huge pile of papers to destroy, I also put the saved mementos in folders chronologically, going all the way back to when I was born. Now…if I get really ambitious…I can make scrapbooks!

It was hard to let go of all that stuff. I kept thinking “What if I want to refer back to this? What if I want to reread what I was thinking and what was happening on such and such day? What if I ever want to show a family member what I was going through to validate my reality?” But you know what? I decided I didn’t want to do any of that. Nada.

Thursday night I stayed up (with a lot of energy) until 5 a.m. in the morning destroying that mound of old papers, old pain, and old stories. That pile… an ever growing visualization of all the crap I’ve literally and figuratively been holding on to for years…is now gone. GONE. W-O-W.

So now that it’s all gone, I have space…space for new stories, new journal writings, new…well I don’t know what! But I do know that by being willing to let go of all that has burdened me for so long, I can…

Allow: to permit something to happen or exist

Who knows what new stories I will create, but I promise I’ll never let the pile…and the attachment to old stories that it represents…get that big again. From here on out, in each moment, I’ll remember the freedom those Full Monty guys felt and just  LET IT GO.





We Can’t Afford To Turn Away

31 05 2009
We pay a high price for refusing to look at the atrocities being committed all over the world. The atrocities continue…bodies, minds, and hearts are destroyed…and we bear a collective responsibility and guilt for allowing them to continue.
 
My family members and friends rarely visit my blog and read my posts. Most never have. They don’t want to read about what I write about…particularly the abuse and injustice toward women and children all over the world. I try and talk with them about it and they don’t want to hear.

To refuse to see and acknowledge what is going on winds up hurting all of us at a very deep level. We deny the humanity of others who have less opportunity and more injustice than we do. How can we live with that? By staying incredibly busy and tuning out the inconvenient and raw truth? How authentic are our lives when we constantly do that? How authentic is our humanity?
 
Here’s an excellent New York Times op-ed column on this posted May 30. What are your thoughts?

“Holding On to Our Humanity” by Bob Herbert

Overload is a real problem. There is a danger that even the most decent of people can grow numb to the unending reports of atrocities occurring all around the globe. Mass rape. Mass murder. Torture. The institutionalized oppression of women.

There are other things in the world: a ballgame, your daughter’s graduation, the ballet. The tendency to draw an impenetrable psychic curtain across the worst that the world has to offer is understandable. But it’s a tendency, as Elie Wiesel has cautioned, that must be fought.

We have an obligation to listen, for example, when a woman from a culture foreign to our own recalls the moment when time stopped for her, when she was among a group of women attacked by soldiers:

“They said to us: ‘If you have a baby on your back, let us see it.’ The soldiers looked at the babies and if it was a boy, they killed it on the spot [by shooting him]. If it was a girl, they dropped or threw it on the ground. If the girl died, she died. If she didn’t die, the mothers were allowed to pick it up and keep it.”

The woman recalled that in that moment, the kind of throbbing moment when time is not just stopped but lost, when it ceases to have any meaning, her grandmother had a boy on her back. The grandmother refused to show the child to the soldiers, so both she and the boy were shot.

A team of female researchers, three of them physicians, traveled to Chad last fall to interview women who were refugees from the nightmare in Darfur. No one has written more compellingly about that horror than my colleague on this page, Nick Kristof. When I was alerted to the report that the team had compiled for Physicians for Human Rights, my first thought was, “What more is there to say?”

And then I thought about Mr. Wiesel, who has warned us so eloquently about the dangers inherent in indifference to the suffering of others. Stories of atrocities on the scale of those coming out of Darfur cannot be told too often.

The conflict has gone on for more than six years, and while the murders and mass rapes have diminished, this enormous human catastrophe is still very much with us. For one thing, Sudan has expelled humanitarian aid groups from Darfur, a move that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, recently told Mr. Kristof “may well amount to genocide by other means.”

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the systematic sexual attacks on Darfuri women have been widely reported. Millions have been displaced and perhaps a quarter of a million Darfuris are living in conditions of the barest subsistence in refugee camps along the Chad-Sudan border.

The report by Physicians for Human Rights, to be released officially on Sunday (available at darfuriwomen.org), focuses on several dozen women in the Farchana refugee camp in Chad. The report pays special attention to the humanity of the women.

“These are real people with children, with lives that may have been quite simple, but were really rich before they were displaced,” said Susannah Sirkin, a deputy director of Physicians for Human Rights.

The conditions in the refugee camps are grim, made worse by the traumas that still grip the women, many of whom were witnesses — or the victims — of the most extreme violence.

“I don’t think I was prepared for the level of just palpable suffering that they are continuing to endure,” said Dr. Sondra Crosby, one of the four interviewers. “Women were telling me they were starving. They’re eating sorghum and oil and salt and sugar.”

Dr. Crosby and her colleagues had a few crackers or cookies on hand for the women during the interviews. “I don’t think I saw even one woman eat the crackers, even though they were hungry,” she said. “They all would hide them in their dresses so they could take them back to their children.”

The women also live with the ongoing fear of sexual assault. According to the report, rape is a pervasive problem around the refugee camps, with the women especially vulnerable when they are foraging for firewood or food.

“It is so much easier to look away from victims,” said Mr. Wiesel, in a speech at the White House in 1999. “It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes.”

But indifference to the suffering of others “is what makes the human being inhuman,” he said, adding: “The political prisoner in his cell, the hungry children, the homeless refugees — not to respond to their plight, not to relieve their solitude by offering them a spark of hope is to exile them from human memory. And in denying their humanity, we betray our own.”





Stand By Me

30 04 2009

Who do you stand by? Today. Right now. A child? Spouse or significant other? Best friend?  Maybe yourself? Is that about it? Hmmm. Too busy, too frazzled, or just don’t give a damn to stand by anyone else? Do you even think about others outside your primary relationships? Of course you do…right?

You are like a cell in the total of the human(ity) body. For this every-human-on-the-planet body to be healthy and functioning, each cell needs to be healthy. Think those women being children and women being raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo don’t affect your life? You have a deadly cancer…good luck. Think Chinese women being forced to abort 9-month-old fetuses to comply with the one-child law doesn’t affect you? You lost your sight…how does that feel?

globe-in-hands-smallerEspecially in the U.S. we have had this notion that we are independent and not connected to the rest of the world…that global body. Look what happened with the economic crisis here…it brought down economies around the world. Our greed, self-centeredness, and narcissim infected others and caused the global body harm.

Now look at the power of what one person can do. President Obama has such a positive, calm, comforting, reassuring, thoughtful, and attentive demeanor and he is lifting us all up. Our global cells are starting to hum and vibrate with hope again.

We are all interconnected. It starts with one person…and then another…and then another…and then another… Who do you stand by? Who do you stand with? Who do you connect with? The answer to that last question? EVERYONE.

 We all need each other. Stand by me. I stand by you.

 From the award-winning documentary “Playing for Change: Peace Through Music”…enjoy!





Tomb Time

12 04 2009

Christian or not, the resurrection story is metaphorical and instructional. Years ago I heard a progressive minister give a talk on “tomb time.” It really stuck with me. She talked of the darkness and uncertainty of the time when Jesus was in the tomb and presumed dead after he had been taken down off the cross.

We’ve all had tomb time. We’ve been through a trauma or a lifetime of trauma. We feel depressed and discouraged and down-and-out. It seems like nothing is happening. We can’t see the light. We see no way out. We think we are doomed. We feel alone.tomb4 We feel persecuted and cut off from others.

We feel misunderstood. We have no answers. We are in darkness. It is uncomfortable. We hate it. We want out.

Instead of struggling to roll away the heavy stone and screaming for help, we can benefit by sitting with ourselves and being in tomb time. Be still. Be quiet. Be open. Be humble. Be present. Listen. Accept.

Time passes. Quiet and acceptance of things as they are lead to a more peaceful mind. The stone rolls away and the light shines in. We were not doomed, we were not done, we were not dead. We are born anew. We arise from the darkness, a resurrected being.

We see with clarity and with fresh eyes. We appreciate the beauty of life…a beauty that we could not see when we were in the darkness.

If you are in tomb time, realize that it won’t last forever. Cherish the gifts of tomb time. Know that you can come out of it and with a renewed clarity and vision. Every moment is an opportunity to allow the stone to roll away, step forward into the light, and live a new life.





Opportunity in the Economic Crisis

11 03 2009
Credit: Circles of Blessing by Ishara de Garis

Credit: Ishara de Garis

If you’re like me, this economic crisis is playing havoc with your confidence and has you wondering if you are on the right path in life. The good news? We have the opportunity in every moment to rebirth ourselves…to start anew and become new. I’m awake late on my birthday (the 10th) and reflecting. What do I need to give birth to?

I feel I have been carrying for a very long time a new life that is ready to push through into existence and yet it hesitates, stays put, and grows ever larger within me in the form of discontent, frustration, a gnawing, and at times a sense of futility.

I’m reminded of the quote from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

Indeed. The world needs all of our talents, our love, our kindness, our peacefulness, our being positive, our giving, and our caring toward others. We are in crisis all over the world and if you think about it, it is wonderful.

Wonderful? Yes. We are being called to stop being greedy, to be humble, to be grateful for what we have, to let go of the fear that is gripping the financial markets and employers, to care for our fellow man, and to realize that everything we do has a ripple effect all over the world…we are all interconnected.

 So here we are in this wonderful chaos…the Chinese symbol for chaos means danger and opportunity. Do we as a country and we as individuals sit frozen in fear of pending danger and gloom or do we seize this incredible moment as opportunity? How do we let go of the fear? How do we move into opportunity?

We do it by refusing to accept that things are “bad” and hopeless. All of the negative talking heads such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter want our country to fail and they spew vitriol and hatred. We cannot afford to listen to these people. They are poisoning our airwaves and the very air we breathe. We must rise up and give birth to a new vision for ourselves, our country, and our world. Even if things look hopeless, we must see with fresh eyes.

Really wake up. Look at the beauty around you. Look into the eyes of your child and see the wonder there. Consider all the people throughout the world…including the ever increasing numbers in the U.S. who are refugees, homeless, have nothing, and live in constant danger and fear. These are our brothers and sisters and they need us to be “…powerful beyond measure.” See what is, but see it through the eyes of a beautiful being that is being rebirthed and awakened to a new way of living and being in the world.

Will you join me in releasing all that is holding ourselves back and in embracing and welcoming into the world our rebirthed selves and nation?

Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to you. May we remember that every moment is an opportunity to celebrate our birth anew.