You never know where Open Roads will take you…

“When you look back on what you consider to be your history, you will note, with rare exceptions, that the human race has been consistent, across the barriers of culture, in denouncing their fellow men for their differences. It is presumed that if one is correct in one’s perceptions and thus knows them to be truth, the differing perceptions of another being therefore constitutes falsehood. It has only begun to dawn on the collective consciousness that the countless differences in perspective amongst you are not evidence of a world of falsehood, but rather are proof of the infinite levels of Divine truth, personified by the presence of each of you.” Oneness by Rasha

Well, what are we supposed to make of THAT? We grow up being told, in no uncertain terms, there is RIGHT and there is WRONG. “Who says?” we ask as kids, “who decides what’s RIGHT and what’s WRONG?” Depending on what your parents were taught, chances are you got their party line, whatever that is: religion, science, a political party, the justice system, moral philosophers, ethicists. But from whence did they draw their conclusions?

PERCEPTION

Perception (per·cep·tion noun /pərˈsepSHən/)

perceptions, plural:

–The ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses(e.g., the normal limits to human perception).

–The state of being or process of becoming aware of something in such a way(e.g.,the perception of pain).

–A way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression (e.g.,Hollywood’s perception of the tastes of the American public;  we need to challenge many popular perceptions of old age).

–Intuitive understanding and insight(e.g.,“He wouldn’t have accepted,” said my mother with unusual perception).

–The neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli

What if a new paradigm is emerging in which RIGHT /WRONG, GOOD /BAD, TRUE /FALSE are understood to be value judgments based in perception? What if the conclusions of the collective consciousness about RIGHT and WRONG are now more of a hindrance than a help in guiding our efforts to make our world a safe, peaceful, joyful and abundant place to live? What if the moral absolutes we dogmatically serve actually confine and constrain our evolution as spiritual beings? What if those “absolutes” are nothing more than beliefs?

 Okay, that’s just crazy talk, RIGHT? Maybe not. Belief is the basis for perception. Maybe if we understand why we believe the things we believe, we can start examining how those beliefs may be hurting rather than helping us, both individually and collectively.

The secret to making that examination effective is objectivity. Objectivity is the result of stepping out of emotion. The trick is identifying when a belief holds strong emotion for us and being willing to, for a moment, release the emotional attachment to that belief.

I’m not suggesting we stop feeling. The emotional component of our humanness gives our lives texture and depth; it’s the elemental aspect of a sense of meaning and profound experience. I am, however, suggesting that for the purpose of this exercise, we learn to recognize when a strong emotion is clouding our objectivity and become willing to set aside the feeling in order to open the mind to other possibilities. Thinking a new thought will not kill you. But it can raise enough fear to make you believe it can.

And there’s the rub. All of the beliefs that support unloving thoughts and behaviors are based in fear. Fear shapes perception. So does love. Fear screams RIGHT or WRONG, GOOD or EVIL, WINNER or LOSER, LIFE or DEATH! Love asks, peace or conflict, abundance or lack, joy or pain, inclusive or exclusive, whole or separate? Again, it’s our nature to evaluate and discern; in fact, this is a great place to use those skills to examine, objectively, the beliefs that shape our perception. In the conscious evolution process, using those skills from a loving perspective yields a very different result from using them from a fearful perspective.

Fear would have us believe that our safety lies somewhere outside of ourselves (and then, interestingly enough, tells us we can’t trust anyone else), that to be safe we must lock things down/up. It whispers that if we can just keep things under our control, everything will be fine. Love says everything IS fine, it’s only the belief/perception that it isn’t that causes conflict.

I hear the protests, “Wait. How can you say everything is fine when there’s a world of evidence to the contrary? And don’t give me that ‘there’s no RIGHT and WRONG’ crap; without a set of rules based in RIGHT and WRONG, everything falls apart! What about the murderers, rapists, thieves, destroyers of the earth—aren’t they WRONG?”

What if there were circumstances or conditions under which each of those acts could be viewed from a different perspective? Not as justification, but simply from the recognition that people/places/things/events just ARE—it’s how we think about them that gives us the experience. We assign value and judgment, based on, as one of the above definitions of perception offers, “The neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.”

As the evolution of human consciousness moves us all forward into territory previously reserved for the Enlightened Masters, we can go kicking and screaming or we can relax, open to new possibilities and ride the wave joyfully, awake and excited as we choose the fulfillment of human potential. Either way, we’re set to experience the limitation inherent in fear-based consciousness and the limitlessness inherent in love-based consciousness. If you don’t believe it, look around the world and get clear about where fear is running the show and where love is running the show. Don’t be deceived by the use of the words; simply note what’s falling apart and what’s staying together. Note where holding a party line to the bitter end has resulted in pain and suffering and where flexibility and the willingness to do something different has resulted in solutions that are beneficial and support our Family of Man.

For the first time in human history (that we know of…) there’s a merging of science and spirituality that reflects the shift in consciousness towards the recognition of the inter-connectedness of all life. Quantum physics has opened the door to explanations supporting what mystics through the ages have known; there’s only One of us here. With that perception, every challenge we face in human form can be met and answered from infinite possibilities that become identifiable.

As we mature spiritually (read become willing to embrace our connection), the incredible technology that already exits and that which is on the horizon become the tools for building “a new earth.” We can inhabit this Garden of Eden as it was given to us, with no strings attached, for the sheer joy and fulfillment as the creative beings we ARE!

 (Note: ONENESSThe Divinity we all share.)

 

From Open Roads May, 2010

I may have said in this very paper that my second earliest memory (my first being bustin’ out of my playpen) is this: It’s 1956. I see my great-grandfather, hands folded on his chest, eyes closed, lying peacefully in his casket in my grandparents’ front bedroom. Streams of visitors, family and friends, come by, speaking softly to my grandparents and then quietly move to the bedroom to look at Granddaddy Dan as he lays there. I’m two years old, and I want to climb in and lie down with him in the midst of vibrant bouquets of flowers. I don’t really understand all the unusual activity, but I know that it’s important and that, somehow, it seems to help people not be so sad at Granddaddy’s passing.

I’m a southerner, and this is what we do in the face of death; we send our loved-ones home on the wings of angels, trumpets sounding, tears of grief mingling with tears of joy for knowing they’re in a better place. Sometimes the send-off is a grand production, sometimes it’s small and simple. Though customs have changed over the years, the underlying principle of respecting your dead people hasn’t. Which brings me to Memorial Day.

 Officially this holiday commemoratesU.S.men and women who died in military service. Thanks to the 1968 Uniform Holidays Bill that moved President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day to Monday, making a three-day weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day the last Monday in May. Though the first recorded account of the name “Memorial Day” was in 1886, it didn’t really come into popular usage until after WWII. We know that in 1967 it was declared by this name in Federal law.

Prior to then, it was known as Decoration Day. There are many accounts of how, when, where, and by whom it all began. As I was noodling around on the internet, I began to get a sense that what were being identified as acts of respect for dead soldiers were simply Southerners being Southerners, doing what they’ve always done—honoring their dead people. What stood out at the end of the Civil War was the fact that they were extending the same honor to their enemies. Another form of Southern hospitality, if you will.

This is from the article GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: FINE SOUTHERN TRADITION OF DECORATION DAY INSPIRED MEMORIAL DAY (by Jay Grelen, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 2005): “As with all traditions, stories about its origins abound, but the genesis of Decoration Day is clear to folklorist Alan Jabbour, retired director of the Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center.  Jabbour, Philip E. “Ted” Coyle, an associate professor of anthropology in North Carolina, and Paul Webb have recently completed a federally commissioned study of Decoration Day in North Carolina.  No question, he says, it’s a Southern thing for which the North takes credit.  Jabbour and his colleagues became experts on the tradition in a round-about way.  Their study was necessary because residents near Fontana Dam in western North Carolina wanted to build a road to 27 cemeteries rendered inaccessible in the 1940s by construction of a dam and a lake. The cemeteries now are part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and environmentalists fear a road will damage the park.

As a stopgap, the National Park Service transports people by boat during the Decoration Day season. Before the government decides to build a road, there has to be an environmental impact study. So the trio produced one, which will be released for public review in the fall. One result of the study is the finding that the tradition of Decoration Day remains strong.”

The story of the origins of Decoration Day, and how it has become confused with Memorial Day, involves a Union general, representative of the federal government in the Civil War, the war that led to the need for a Memorial Day in the first place. Official recognition of the day in the United States, whether you call it Memorial or Decoration, dates to the mid-1860s when the wife of Union Gen. John A. Logan reported to her husband the decorating of graves at a church cemetery inPetersburg, Va.  The general, who was commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the organization of Union veterans, liked the idea.  So in 1868, Logan proclaimed that the 30th day of May would be set aside to remember the war dead, which eventually led to the national Memorial Day.

Thus many credit Logan, the North and the federal government with the idea. But hold your horses. ”The North has always controlled the words,“ says Jabbour, a native of Jacksonville, Fla. ”If you read the encyclopedias, the North gets credit. Here’s what I think: What came first was an Upland South folk tradition for all the people in the community.  It wasn’t just for the fallen in battle.  It’s like a spring version of the Day of the Dead [in Mexico], communing with the dead. That’s the old tradition.”

So the South’s Decoration Day is probably the inspiration for Memorial Day, he says, not the other way around.  ”That custom was enforced by Gen. Logan through the Union Army,“ Jabbour says. ”The South was already doing it. I’m inclined to think this is kind of an early American tradition, a flower of the early frontier. The tradition seems to have migrated west from Virginia and the Carolinas as far as Arkansas and may remain the strongest in that belt. Recognition of the day extends in both directions from the government-sanctioned Memorial Day. (Some folks argue the federal government ruined it in 1971 by switching the day from May 30 to the last Monday in May to create another three-day holiday weekend). You could accurately refer to May and June as Decoration Day Season.”

There’s no reason to be adversarial—it’s not a contest, and it doesn’t have anything to do with North vs. South. It’s just the way things are done here.

I grew up in a time and place where many of my people (as we say in the South) were interred in family graveyards. When I was a child, we made a pilgrimage every summer toForkMountainfor the Fitzgerald reunion. My grandmother’s oldest brother, who lived in D.C., was the last family member to own the property. It was not far off Rt. 56 where the currentMontebellopost office is located and was still a working farm in that my uncle raised cattle on the several acres of mountain meadowland and kept one of the two houses on the farm set up for his visits. He would come down to host the reunion, when the extended family would gather at the top of a hill by the old family graveyard for food, fellowship and family business.

Like most of the attendees, we’d turn into the lane that eased across the neighbor’s land, honking to announce we were coming through. There was a gate we had to open to gain entrance to “our” land. Tradition mandated a stop at the spring for a drink of pure mountain water before crawling the last half mile of rutted, dirt road. We’d pass the old house—a log cabin—and be reminded of what growing up there was like for my grandmother and her six brothers and sisters.

Depending on road conditions and how the car was packed, kids might be off-loaded before the last stretch up to the cemetery to keep car bottoms from scraping on the rocks. Once there, we spread blankets, set up our lawn chairs, and loaded our food onto the picnic tables beside the fenced graveyard. My older sister would drag me through the little graveyard gate into the past, where she read to me and we memorized names and relationships of the dead to kinfolk sitting outside the fence, and thus, to us.

It was impossible not to feel absorbed into a vast family matrix, not to feel the deep, strong roots of an enormous family tree. Standing among those headstones, I was as close to the past as I was to the present. There I found (literal) concrete proof of oral history—how I’d been named after my great-great grandmother Rebecca. There was this sense of permanence and continuity, comforting me that the safety-net of family ties was somehow impervious to time and even to death.

After we ate, my grandmother’s oldest brother called the business meeting to order and youngsters scattered in all directions to escape boring grown-up talk. At some point, though, when I was old enough to pick up on the content of those meetings, I realized they were mostly about maintaining the graveyard. One year the cattle had broken through the fence and knocked over some of the headstones, cracking a few, breaking others. I remember feeling violated, as if juvenile delinquent cattle had deliberately vandalized this beloved place. I also remember feeling a certain sadness as the years passed and my grandmother’s generation aged and died. Attendance at the reunions diminished and so did interest in the graveyard. We lost the connecting generation—those ones who had actually known the people at rest there, who could bring them to life with stories and anecdotes.

My Uncle William, chairman of the business meetings and owner of the land, wasn’t much older than I am now when he undertook the responsibility of seeing that the final resting place of our ancestors was kept in good order. He died in 1985 and, to my knowledge, was the last one buried in that graveyard.

     As Ruth Teaford Baker said, “Regardless of sentiments, there is a mighty exodus from other states into the South during the month of May. The tone has changed somewhat from the past, but the basis of the tradition is strong family ties that transcend time and space. People return to their roots as surely as the birds return year after year to their territories.”

Though many non-southerners think it morbid, we know it’s about family ties. I’m grateful for my understanding, born of experience, of how this holiday came into being. This Memorial Day, as I pay my respects to those men and women who died in military service, I’ll also remember the longer-standing traditions rooted in my southern family heritage.

For more on the subject, here’s an op/ed piece from today’s New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/30/opinion/30blight.html?pagewanted=1&hp

Peace, Baby

From the April issue:

Let’s talk a little about peace; not the peace-means-not-war peace, but the peace that passes understanding. If we continue to think/believe/act like peace can be forced, or enforced by the threat of violence, any un-war state achieved will be unstable and temporary. The idea that peace is contingent upon conditions is as unreal as the idea that a tree falling in a forest devoid of humans makes no noise. The energy movement, the vibration, occurs whether or not a human is on hand to identify it, interpret it, or take credit for it, as humans are wont to do.

Peace is a state of consciousness; it just is. It’s always there, awaiting our awareness. Though we may be able to make peaceful conditions, we don’t have to make peace. We only have to identify and then let go of the thoughts/beliefs/actions that keep us from experiencing the natural state of peace that exists whether we take advantage of it or not.

At this point in our evolution, we’re capable of doing that. We’re completely capable of changing our minds—our thoughts, and therefore beliefs. After all, a belief is only a thought we think over and over until it becomes a well-worn groove in the brain.

Building on the understanding that we are all connected, the time is here and now for us to think differently, making decisions and choices based on that understanding. There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence pointing to the demise of institutions—financial, political, corporate, military—as the the old power structure paradigm of “us vs. them crumbles.” It just doesn’t work any more, folks. If it did, we wouldn’t have upheaval all over the globe as outdated approaches create problems rather than solving them.

So, if we can’t pull a gun, aim missiles, threaten nuclear annihilation, or buy them off to make people get peaceful, what do we do? The answer is simple; we claim peace for ourselves. Simple, yes—easy, not so much.

It is incumbent upon every one of us to become aware of the thoughts and beliefs we hold that allow us to justify the acts of violence we perpetrate on each other all the time because we believe there’s an “us” and a “them.” I’m talking about every unloving word we utter or act we in which we engage. And to take it all the way, the very thoughts we think. Which of course, is the substance of consciousness. Everything begins with a thought—every word, every act, every emotion. We may not be “conscious” of the connection, but it’s there. And we’re responsible for it. If it’s unconscious, we’re responsible to become willing to start paying attention and become conscious. Even our cherished justice system tells us ignorance of the law is no excuse.

The book Oneness by Rasha offers these thoughts:

“To truly create ‘peace’ on a global scale, it is necessary to step back from the overview of global conflict and to perceive the interactions that precipitate it as what they truly are—manifestations of energy (thoughts). To shift an environment in which discord reigns supreme and is unyielding, it is a futile effort to enter into a duel where bravado collides head-on with bravado. Hostility met with hostility simply breeds escalated hostility and reinforces the vibrational building blocks (thoughts of dominance) of the situation into ones that will continue to manifest more of the same.

To shift the energy (thoughts, consciousness) underlying these ongoing global situations, it is necessary to address the energy (thoughts, consciousness) that comprises them. Each participant, regardless of how inconsequential the involvement, adds a piece to the energetic equation. A mind-set of dominance-at-all-costs, breeds as its ongoing manifestation, the vibration of separation (us vs. them…) The key to moving the stagnant energies of the global conflict lies in the recognition of the need to shift the energies of the interpersonal dynamics of all participants.

In truth, all are responsible, energetically, for co-creating global conflict. And all are capable of making a measurable difference in the efforts toward world peace, by taking responsibility for the energy projected in every encounter with every fellow being with whom one shares this adventure known as ‘life.’”

So, the bad news is, we can no longer count on the president or congress or the military or the education system or corporations or banks or the UN to make peace—it’s up to me and it’s up to you. The good news is, we no longer have to count on the president or congress or the military or the education system or corporations or banks to make peace, I can do it and you can do it. Those institutions can then take their rightful place as support for and enhancement of a peaceful world.

Furthering world peace isn’t just for beauty pageant contestants and Nobel Prize winners anymore. As the Baby Boomers sang, “All we are saying, is give peace a chance.” You CAN change the world!

 

The Blame Game

“Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” Brené Brown (PhD, LMSW) author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are, from her TED talk on the power of vulnerability.

I discovered Brené Brown on Facebook. Yep, Facebook. One of the fascinating (and possibly frightening) aspects of Facebook is that often your “friends” are folks you don’t know, but you’ve “friended” because they were friends of friends. Sometimes it works out well, sometimes not so much.

Anyway, this guy I’ve never met posted the link to Brené’s TED talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html). In case you don’t know about TED, it began as a small non-profit in 1984, dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading.” They held a yearly conference that brought people together from three walks, Technology, Entertainment, and Design. It was a forum for cutting edge ideas. Since then, TED’s scope has broadened and there are now two yearly conferences—one in Palm Springs and one in Long Beach, as well as a global summer conference held in Oxford UK. In a growing trend, aspects of the informational ground-breaking lectures are showing up in general conversation.

As the Love Month, February urges me to write about my favorite subject: Love. I never know from whence the muse shall come—sometimes she hails from far left field, sometimes she emerges from behind the barn. This time she comes from what, at first glimpse, may seem like Not Love.

The national discourse since the shootings in Arizona has reached epochal levels of polarization. You can’t swing a conversational cat without hitting a raw nerve somewhere. There hasn’t been room for an actual discussion—a give and take of ideas—in which to process the events of that Saturday morning massacre in a grocery store parking lot.

Within in moments, the fingers started pointing; was it the media, was it the politicians, was it the health care system failing to care for mental illness, or was it nature/nurture. I suggest to you, at this point, that perhaps it doesn’t matter. You can take the facts and spin them only so many ways, so many times before wringing all the impact from them. I think the constant, 24/7 rehashing is, at least in part, why we become inured to the violence and inhumanity that takes place in the lives of millions of people in our world every day. That’s why it takes an assassination attempt on a national political figure in which a federal judge and a nine year old child become “collateral damage” to get our attention—it’s news and it’s big—a story full of impact.

In the media feeding frenzy immediately following the event, the human stories got trampled in the race to win the Blame Game. Political pundits stripped the carcasses to feed their agendas, extracting pieces of personal information to validate their positions while the cameras rolled, capturing every possible justification for blaming someone else. All in the name of justice, freedom, and honoring those brought down by the bullets.

Perhaps sifting through the facts is useful for developing theories. We engage in that exercise, albeit often futilely, as a means of protecting ourselves from future occurrences; we feel that if we know how/why it happened, we can prevent a recurrence. Sometimes that’s accurate. Other times, the facts seem contradictory and elusive, refusing to order themselves into a neat, rational package. When that happens, a willingness to let go of insisting that they line up like good little soldiers can open the door to a more useful perspective.

If, indeed, blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort, we’re apparently a nation of hurtin’ people. And, if we’re honest, we know this to be true. It seems like things everywhere have been spinning out of control for the last few years; the institutions and conventions that once offered a backdrop of security for our lives have either completely unraveled or they’re getting dangerously threadbare. We’re told we’re running out of resources, we can’t get a job—there aren’t any jobs, health problems that once were the exception have invaded the general population and who’s going to pay for THAT; we’re homeless, hungry, and sick in epidemic numbers. No wonder we’re yelling at each other—we’re weary and nobody knows what it’s like to be us.

Except we do, because we’re ALL us. We’re all in this together, so stop the yelling. Obviously we don’t have any control over whether the other guy chooses words or images that inflame, provoke, aggravate, goad, incite, or irritate, whether intentional or not. Our responsibility is to control our own reactions and not dump gas on the flame.

If we really want to honor the lives lost and those injured in the shootings, let’s take this opportunity to change how we speak to each other—our personal and national conversations. Let’s take responsibility for choosing the words and images we use to communicate. I was struck by two celebrity comments. During the panel’s discussion about Tucson on The View, Whoopi Goldberg didn’t point any fingers, she simply said, “when I was growing up, people talking and whipping things up caused people to get lynched.” No spin, just a fact.

Jon Stewart of The Daily Show didn’t point any fingers, he just observed, “it would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in any way resemble how we actually talk to each other on TV. Let’s at least make troubled individuals easier to spot.”

Who knows whether we can stop random violence or planned terrorism or war and other conditions that spawn them. I believe we can; I think that’s the point of love your enemy and love your neighbor.

Today I advocate for across-the-board love. Yes, the act was heinous, yet if we’re really interested in changing things we have to move beyond giving lip service to love into acting with love and compassion. Even when we don’t want to; especially when we don’t want to. We have to stop hurling vitriolic threats and insults that are, in their own way, violence. We have to find a different way of treating our personal pain and discomfort. I don’t get to make me feel better at your expense. It’s no longer acceptable to spew with complete disregard for hurting another human being, even if we deem that human as being deserving of hate or contempt; we don’t get to make that call. Intrinsic to justice is compassion and humanity, whether we’re dealing with a mentally deranged shooter, a Senator on the other side of the aisle, your spouse or kid, or the person in the mirror.

 

As We Forgive Others

(From the January issue of “Open Roads”)

I used to be one of those people who felt obliged on New Year’s Eve to get out pen and paper and make lists of what I wanted to bring into my life, what I wanted to keep, and what I wanted to shed. I lit candles, burned incense, and played just the right music. I paid close attention to folks who talked about following that protocol and, when they read back over their lists in December, found that miraculously, the things they asked for came and things they were done with disappeared. Wow, I thought.

A few years of diligently following that practice and I found, for the most part, my track record was about 50/50. I often had miraculous experiences, but not necessarily apropos of my New Year’s Eve manifesto. Please hear me: I’m not dissing this exercise. I think putting pen to paper is a powerful tool for transformation. And I often experienced a sense of tranquility just from bringing a certain reverence to the process. Then somewhere along the way, dawn broke over marble head; maybe it was more about the reverence and less about the process.

What began as setting aside time for focusing on what was wrong with last year and how to fix it in the new year evolved into time simply spent in meditation. Ironically, I found that while I was meditating, nothing was wrong nor needed fixing. Looking at the coming year from that point of view was infinitely more pleasurable.

At some point, I had a GE moment  when it occurred to me that perhaps there was a flow to my life, things coming and going, whether I invited it or not. Man as Master of his Destiny became a suspect concept. It brought into question all my beliefs about free will, the Law of Attraction, manifesting, the perplexing notions of “being” versus “doing,” etc. Throw in a growing fascination with and study of quantum physics and I found myself with the makings of a good ol’ conundrum stew. But that’s grist for another mill. Suffice it to say that when I stepped out of that particular mental muddle, I stepped back into some basics.

The 12-Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous has been boiled down to three basics: trust in a Higher Power, clean house, and help others. Whether you’re an alcoholic or not, I think this can serve as a pretty good blueprint for living. In the run up to New Year’s Eve, my attention was drawn to the need for house cleaning. Everyone around me was living in emotional squalor; hoarding their grievances, justifying their resentments, shirking their responsibilities, wallowing in self-pity, inflamed from a feeding frenzy of judgment. It was REALLY easy to see what you needed to clean up; me, not so much. And here was the clincher—your life was a mess and I was suffering.

Interestingly, concurrent with all my watching you, references to forgiveness began catching my attention. My six-year old nephew proudly presented me with a Christmas card that he’d picked out himself from my mother’s stash. I think his reasons for picking it had nothing to do with the message and everything to do with the color and the artwork, but it read, “Forgive Others”. The day after Christmas I decided on a whim to turn on the TV, and Ben Stein appeared on my screen. If you don’t know Ben, he wears many hats, but none so fitting as his acerbic commentary on the subject of his choosing. This Sunday morning, he chose forgiveness. Surprisingly un-acerbic, Stein’s piece was honest and thoughtful, inviting us to “clean out the closets of our hearts” and just forgive everyone of everything.   Feeling my heart grow a size bigger, I indulged my emotional sweet tooth with the movie “Chocolat.” I love that movie; it has more than a few of my favorite things—Johnny Depp, Juilette Binoche, Judi Dench, and chocolate, as well as a story of misplaced allegiance, awakening desire, misunderstanding, forgiveness, and redemption.

I watched my life playing out on the screen (not the Johnny Depp/Juliette Binoche part) as Conte de Reynaud, the town’s controlling and pompous mayor, grows increasingly unhappy and upset when the usually well-managed villagers begin behaving in ways he judges as immoral and just wrong. He justifies his judgment on the fact that it’s Lent and people are to resist the pleasures of the flesh. Of course, Juliette Binoche blows into town and opens a chocolate shop, and temptation abounds. Pere Henri, whose sermons are edited by the mayor, is forced to speak out against this immorality.

After blahblahblah, Judi Dench, blahblahblah, Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, blahblahblah, violence, fire, death, etc., the Conte eventually comes around and Pere Henri’s Easter sermon is this: “I think we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do; by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.”

Direct hit.

I’ve been around long enough to understand that you are my mirror and when I’m only seeing your stuff, my agitation and dissatisfaction grows until I’m completely miserable. I’ve also been around long enough to understand what moves me back into peace. Yeppers, trust God, clean house, and help others. And the one-size-fits-all tool for that job is forgiveness.

If it’s true that resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die, perhaps the opposite would be that forgiveness heals you AND the other guy. I’m not talking about what passes in some circles for forgiveness, a certain spiritual arrogance that says, “I forgive you because that makes me a better person (than you…).”

I’m talking about the kind of forgiveness that has nothing to do with right or wrong, but everything to do with releasing others from our own judgments of their choices and decisions—even if we take some collateral damage or direct hits along the way. I’m talking about the kind of forgiveness that says, I refuse to hold you to your past or keep you locked in to my expectations for how you “should” be in your life. I’m talking about the kind of forgiveness that realizes that, as human beings, we’re all capable of the same horrendous and heinous acts we feel justified in holding others outside our hearts for committing. There is no human or human act that is beyond redemption. THAT’S the forgiveness I’m talking about. That’s the peace that passes all understanding.

Forgiveness isn’t about saying, okay—you did something bad but I’m not going to punish you. It’s about recognizing there’s something beyond good and bad. There’s the mortal mind that sees in duality and judges positive/negative, good/bad, right/wrong, and feels the need to answer “yes” or “no,” to either reward or punish. Yet there’s also a consciousness that has the capacity to see error without judgment—that is our divinity.

You’ve experienced the joy of your heart opening, whether to your child, a beloved animal companion, a parent, a friend, or a lover. Maybe something in the natural world delighted you, a song or a painting, or the best pizza you ever had lifted you up and made your spirits rise. Joy is always present and emerges from an open heart. An open heart is our natural state; we slam it shut based on our human beliefs/thoughts/judgments that tell us we need to protect it. What is non-forgiveness, really, except some attempt at insulating ourselves against the pain of a broken heart?

The people we identify as needing forgiveness have done something that has caused pain on some level in our lives, so we feel justified in holding them outside of our heart. The spiritual teacher and author, Gangagi, has this to say: “When actions arise out of peace, its spontaneity and rapport with the world allow the heart to be broken again and again, without any need to insulate it from the breaking. With each breaking can come an even deeper recognition of what remains unbreakable, and this is the source of compassion and the source of all lasting help in the world.”

My choice in any interaction with another is whether I see their innocence or what I perceive to be their guilt—their divine essence or their human frailties. Either way, what I see is what I’m looking with. As Confucius said, “Those who cannot forgive others break the bridge over which they themselves must pass.”     That’s how it works when we’re all connected. One might interpret the oft-quoted Bible verse a little differently—perhaps it is done unto us as we do to others. What goes around comes around. Maybe this is really how the law of karma works.

I don’t know about you, but I’m all about making space for new experiences in this new year. To that end, I offer this prayer from A Course In Miracles:

This is the time in which a new year will soon be born from the time of Christ. I have perfect faith in you to do all that you would accomplish. Nothing will be lacking, and you will make complete and not destroy. Say, then, to your brother:

“I give you to the Holy Spirit as part of myself.I know that you will be released, unless I want to use you to imprison myself.In the name of my freedom I choose your release, becauseI recognize that we will be released together.”

So will the year begin in joy and freedom. Accept the holy instant as this year is born, and take your place, so long left unfulfilled, in the Great Awakening. Make this year different by making it all the same. And let all your relationships be made holy for you. This is our will. Amen.

AMNESTY FOR ALL!

Moving Right Along (or Not)

This month’s issue of the paper is done. Finally. I’ve sent the change-of-address email with the new address and phone number. Finally. And I’ve moved. Finally. I had started this blog post, finally, and walked away from my computer to get coffee. When I came back, the very blue screen announced my system had “recovered from a very serious error.” Of course, I thought—this is my life now. Completely ignoring all the warnings about rebooting in Safe Mode, I fired her up, but nowhere was my draft to be found.

This is par for the course I’ve been traveling for weeks now. When my feet were set on this moving course, I was elated, excited, joyful, and oh-so ready. If you’ve known me long and have an old-fashioned address book, you’ve probably cursed me for all the pages required to keep up with me. Folks, this ain’t my first rodeo. I know where and when to get boxes, I know how to pack, I know what and how much my car will take, I’ve got a couple of different plans for loading trucks, depending on who’s available to help. And I have back-up plans. A friend commented recently, “you probably have it down to a science by now.”

Yes, yes I do, or so I thought. The first hurdle popped up when I discovered my dependable source for boxes stopped giving away boxes. An inconvenience, but not a real problem—I know about the liquor store, which had previously been my dependable source for boxes. As a fairly publicly recovering alcoholic of twenty-five years, I admit to looking over my shoulder on my frequent trips to the package store to get the goods. Once I even hid from someone I knew, not wanting her to get the “wrong” idea, thinking I was there to purchase their product. I had to laugh; isn’t that what most people who hide from other people at the liquor store think?

I accumulated a fine stash of boxes and commenced my packing. I started making plans for moving, painting, and making a paper. It was an interlocking puzzle; first this, then that. It was a good plan, really. I’ve done it all before and enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction when the pieces fell into place, a flawless execution, perfect timing.

It did not happen that way. Virtually every plan I made, especially if it involved someone else, fell apart. Things didn’t fit into prescribed vehicles. Paint wasn’t available at the prescribed time. Helpers couldn’t help at the appointed time. Basements flooded, most notably the one in which my worldly possessions had been living. I had to sort through the soggy stuff, discerning what was salvageable, and either throw out or dry out everything I own.

Through it all, I endured a sinus infection and a level of fatigue heretofore unknown to me. It was not pretty. But I kept at it—not something I’ve always done in the past.

If you’ve picked up the November issue of Open Roads and read “Some Random Thoughts About Thanksgiving” you know I’ve been practicing the wisdom of “when the map and the terrain don’t match, tis wise to follow the terrain” (except when flying a plane in the fog, as pointed out by a smart-ass friend…) My terrain went from ludicrous to sublime, and so I laughed, which I found preferable to dissolving in a salty puddle of “why me” tears.

I was reminded repeatedly of something I heard a long time ago, if you’re driving cross-country at night, you don’t need for your headlights to light the whole way, just the stretch of road ahead. Only when I could let go of my idea of how/when/where/who should unfold, was there movement; otherwise, things stood stubbornly still. It was great practice for me to walk in faith without getting certain undergarments in a wad about it.

At different points folks would ask, “do you think maybe the Universe is trying to tell you something?” My response was, “if there’s one thing of which I’m certain, it’s that this move is the right thing—it’s the right time and the right place.” And that, of course, was the fuel for putting one foot in front of the other, even though it so often felt like walking in quicksand. I ramped up my meditation and found it easier and easier to accept what ever was happening in the moment. Each time I felt the quicksand relax, release a little.

I think of all the times in my life I’ve been unshakable in my belief that a certain turn on the path was the one I was meant to take. The results have varied; I’ve jumped into relationships, jobs, situations that couldn’t have been a worse fit nor more distressing—sometimes for years. Conversely, I’ve leaped and seen the whole world open up to unlimited possibilities and delicious freedom. I’ve also crept into both types of experiences and my conclusion is they’ve all been valid. Judging one as good and one as bad is really the source of my discomfort—not the actual circumstance, condition, or situation.

I’ve spent enormous amounts of time and energy in my life scouring my psyche, my soul, books, therapists, mystics, and every other place I could think of for The Lesson. What’s the lesson—why is this so difficult? What am I missing here? If I can just figure that out, I can escape this whole running-though-taffy thing. I realized pretty quickly I had to give that up if I had any hope of holding on to my sanity through this process. I decided that if there were a lesson, it would make itself known without my ego-powered snipe hunts. Guess what I found; peace. Is that the lesson? I don’t know, but I know I’m feeling really content here tapping away on my keyboard by my new window in my new home, where I’m settling in. Finally.


Okay, I was afraid this was going to happen. It’s been two and half months since I posted. In the world of blogging, this is a big no-no. You have to keep ‘em coming—keep things stirred up, otherwise, people lose interest and think you’ve quit. I had a reputation as a kid for being a quitter. I don’t have to dig too deeply to uncover memories of my older sister’s angry cry, “MOM, MAKE HER FINISH THIS GAME!!!” And sometimes she would; I suppose Mom, from the Solomon’s Wisdom School of Parenting, would discern which child needed most to prevail. There were times when she saw my powerlessness, as the younger child, against the direction of an older sibling who was way smart, whom I adored, and to whom I was beholden as my guide and protector in that confusing world of adults. And she let me walk away. Other times she determined I just needed to stay in the game—see it through, regardless of how much I hated to lose.

Ouch. The voices can still be heard; they mostly whisper but occasionally speak sharply about a lifetime of quitting, or the more passive version, just not following through. It’s important for me to make that distinction because that’s the one that so insidiously permeated my life. As an active alcoholic and drug addict I just didn’t have the wherewithal to follow through on anything—except scoring my next drink or drug. I wasn’t one of those hide-in-the-closet-and-drink kinda gals, my goal was oblivion and I didn’t care who knew it. Many years of sitting in AA meetings acquainted me with a different kind of drunk; the ones who spent their lives battling with themselves to maintain a “normal” life while in enslaved to the booze and/or drugs.

I heard them say, “I never lost my job, my home, or my family.” And they’d go on to describe the utter and complete hellish lengths to which they went in order to appear normal (read functional.) I had no such sense of responsibility; my favorite hat said “WORK IS THE CURSE OF THE DRINKING CLASS”. In retrospect, I see that I had some top-of-the-line enablers, that literally supported me in every way, which freed me up to drink as much as I wanted.

But then I got sober. I was shown at every turn where my active addiction gave sanctuary to my unwillingness to take responsibility for any aspect of my life. As I traveled the road of recovery, I saw where my growth stopped when my drinking began at age 14. (Some days the maturity of a 14-year-old would’ve been a vast improvement.) Working a recovery program, using spiritual principles, I was able to take an honest look at all the things in my life left undone; I followed the wreckage of my past into the wreckage of my present.

And so I began tying up the loose ends of my life. After a 17-year summer vacation, I went back to school, attending the local community college. I started the Associate’s Degree program, which I never finished. I took a detour into the Automotive Analysis and Repair program, where I got a degree, but I quit turning wrenches before I ever got started because I developed Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. My next move was into carpentry, working as a helper with a friend on a project. I could’ve continued down that path when the job ended but I quit. I went to work as a counselor in an addiction treatment center and was encouraged to continue my education so I could move into being a case worker (read more responsibility, more money.) But I quit because I wanted to open a chili shop. And I did, but I quit that, too, when the shoestring on which I was operating broke. And then, and then, and then…you get the picture.

I continue to have experiences that seem to be a direct result of things I never finished. Like the frustration I feel when playing my guitar; I could probably play much better had I stuck with taking lessons and practicing. A friend mentioned to me recently that she’d been teaching for 40+ years and my immediate response was, “I’ve never done anything for 40 years except suck air.” There was a time in my life that would’ve translated into “see, you never could stick with anything—you’re just defective.” And perhaps that’s in no small part because I’ve encountered many people who’ve expressed that opinion of the likes of me.

I now see those times I “quit” as simply changes in direction. Perhaps my soul was leading me in a direction my limited human self couldn’t justify. I see “unfinished” as creative potential—unlimited possibility. Perhaps finished isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Here’s a secret; I don’t care. There’s not a human on this earth that can judge me as harshly as I’ve judged myself, who can heap any more shame, blame, and guilt on me than I’ve heaped on myself. And I’m over it. Hallelujah, praise Jesus, I’M OVER IT! No one has to live in my skin but me and that gives me full authority to run my show in any way that makes me happy. I never have to finish another thing in my life if I don’t want to and other people are free to think whatever they choose about it. No one else has to be happy about my choices. No one has to agree with me, no one has to “support” me, no one has to believe in me, no one has to do anything any different in their lives. I’m okay just the way I am.

And so are you, which means I can give up running your life. It’s no longer urgent that you hear my opinion of the decisions you make and I’m now confident you’ll survive without my sage (and often unsolicited) advice. I trust you’ll get along fine without my benediction.

The real news here is love doesn’t care either; it just IS, without condition, without judgment.

And that, my beloveds, is freedom.