Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Letters

I like getting Holiday letters from friends and family. Last week we got a holiday letter from one of Kathy’s daughters, as is her tradition, and as I read it I savored every carefully chosen word, every line, as I always do when I read her letters. She has a way with words that captures their playful essence beautifully, and in true holiday fashion, she sums up the year’s highlights with vivid images of shared love, laughter, and visual treats. I remember when we were growing up in Nigeria how we always looked forward to receiving “Christmas letters” from friends and family flung far and wide. I remember how my parents, especially my mother, savored them. She loved a good summary of life. Dad typed a few of the letters, which was rare, and his way of summing up our lives for their readers was always fun to compare to mother’s.  A line or two about each of us children, a paragraph or two about the adventures of “African life,” details of teaching and learning and always a few to perfectly capture a delightful personality who had become part of their social or professional network. 

Christmas in Africa was very different than in America in some ways. The sun shone brightly, and often we swam on Christmas Day, after early morning gift sharing, and shared sentiments of the meaning of the season and all we were thankful for.  It seemed a little strange to see our spindly fake fir shining with tinsel and shiny ornaments in the warm weather and being steeped in Perry Como and Bing Crosby’s I’m dreaming of a White Christmas. Yet it would have also seemed strange not to have it, and not to hear our parents’ familiar songs. We were always reminded of being blessed to have so much when so many had/have so little. My brother Mike was especially conscious of this even as a very small child.

This year has been a year full of changes.  I’m amazed that we are ending December in our calendar year already! I’m amazed that 2011 is upon us. I marvel that the weather stations report record storms and cold throughout the country. What do I remember most fondly about this year? So many moments, so many memories. Right now I remember Thanksgiving with family, and my little niece Banner, the cutest princess in the world, living her charmed life with total joy and the enchantment of being a princess in this big world. Her full-teeth smile which holds such joy as my brother calls to her, Hey Hollywood! This way! as she sashays by in her outfit complete with matching sunglasses. My Aunt, my mother’s twin, like a wonderful image of Mom alive and laughing, as they did together, and my Uncle, the consummate host and steady keeper-of-the-house. This Thanksgiving I met my new little cousin “Baby Henry” for the first time. What a doll. He is constantly in my mind’s eye now, as I get reminders of his growing and smiling, rolling and giggling. I remember driving in October and picking up my sister at the Airport, then going on to Birmingham where we visited Mike and his family. It was a wonderful “reunion” of sorts, and included a first-time visit to the missionary family reunion at Shocco Springs in Alabama. The annual missionary reunion included the traditional memorial tributes, this year Mom’s being part of the line-up. My sister and I, with a borrowed GPS, found a few spots to visit, and we sang our hearts out with childhood songs we had sung which had been triggered in our memory at the reunion. We laughed so hard we cried, and once or twice almost had to pull off the road. Some moments can never be truly appreciated except by those personalities present in the moment and on that memory node! I remember going to Birmingham on my birthday, where I saw my triplet brother then drove with my niece (home from college) to Houston, where I saw my triplet sister! Seeing them in different states on our birthday! What a treat!

Best of all is the gift of continuing to "Know Thyself" as I experience and share life and the knowledge that inspires me to continuing learning and growing in love. Today the sky is gray, the squirrels are busy, and the birds flit around from tree to tree, from bird feeder to fence post. Paperwork awaits, the coffee is delicious, and my thankfulness is infinite. Thank you friends and family, and all of my human family, known and as yet unknown. Happy holidays, and may we all create and enjoy a very happy New Year!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Why I Do What I Do

A friend from my boarding-school past, now a Human Resources pro, wrote a thoughtful blog post about “Why I Do What I Do.” (She writes a great blog!) I thank her for her reach into memory and updating  her passion for why she does what she does. Her article about boarding school stirs me, especially since my parents have both died in the last 2 years, and we recently have been to a reunion where many of their and our missionary “family” and our parents’ “girls” were present. Those at the reunion were happy to see us, very loving in their welcome, as always, and very kind in their remembrances and praise of our parents. My reminder of why some missionary “families” really do remain families – supportive, in touch by heart and mind if not physically, and caring – was embodied in full bloom.  I think our parents were well-suited to their job as house parents too.  I remember that they thought deeply about that choice before accepting the position – just as they thought very deeply about sending their children to boarding school, and of parenting so many children. They were good examples indeed.

Being born a triplet, with an older brother too, I began I think with a built-in sense of “community.”  I also began with a burning need to understand why I, why we, as people, do what we do – big, little, and long, short moments and lives included. (This was a primary motivation for writing my book – to “know thyself”.)
When we went to college, my sister and I chose to put our names in the collective pool as everyone else did, rather than request rooming together. My roommate was a young woman born and raised in Oklahoma City, eager for the new adventure of college life. She was smart, eager, and excited about her new adventure – yet we had very little in common, though we searched for things to talk about and to share. My depression grew, and I began to have to try to figure out what those growing-up years meant to me as a personality, what I might do with them, what did they teach me about myself and my world, my life, my friends, my family, my opportunity to choose and to create.

After teaching and working in a handful of other jobs over the years, for about 20 years now I have been working and studying with Kathy Oddenino, an RN by profession and also long-time teacher of Spiritual Philosophy and author of, to date, 8 books. From the time of my introduction to Kathy’s first book and to her personality, at an event in her home (then in Annapolis, MD), I began to feel that I’d found the right “signal” that my mind was looking for. I’d always had a sense of hope about life, though there were times (particularly when I was in college and then a few times in my twenties) when that feeling was buried beneath a lot of heavy stuff that I didn’t really know how to move. Though I’d had therapy a few times, and it was helpful, I’d never heard anyone explain depression to me in a way that satisfied my mind’s question – why me? Why now? What does this heaviness really mean to me as a personality? (What is the meaning of my life, of life? What is the truth?) Since I know I have a good mind, why can’t I figure this out? Since studying Spiritual Philosophy, I began to appreciate all of the rest of life and learning with a fresh perception. This came from being introduced to the thought reality that our mind must learn to “know thyself,” and as our mind truly seeks self-knowledge, the love within us as part of our design as a sensory being begins to express itself.  Religion did not define for me what the “soul” is, nor what the “spirit” is in a way that helped me to understand my own design as a human being. I work with books because I love books and knowledge, and I am committed to the joy of “knowing thyself” in this life. Spiritual Philosophy offers me the explanation of us as energy, which science validates, and which every sensory experience I create helps me to appreciate and expand. The Ethical Values are the basis of who we are as energy beings. What greater gift? What greater adventure? I do what I do because I believe this knowledge of who we are as human beings must be shared and passed on, as a conscious legacy of love. My parents gave me the gift of life, and we grew together in love. Good conversation (using the energy of the Ethical Values) trumps most things in my world. The beauty of life and Nature enhance all I am open to enjoying at any moment.  (My cloud fetish, for instance – I love studying clouds!) This is how we each learn to heal ourselves, and therefore to heal the Earth that is our home.  For me, knowledge about our human design is the foundation of all education. As Patty Griffin wrote in her song, It’s a mad, mad mission…sign me up!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Letting Go

I feel the joys of little boys,
giggles of little girls,
the way the leaves let go
Of bark when the wind blows,
on to other landings.
I feel skin growing,
Cells murmuring to each other as
Healing, love happens.
Memories awaken, share themselves
And they bind
together, again
And more, as time takes its own
Pace, marching, sailing, moving
In each mind.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Just Pedaling Through

"Many of the things I’ve written about the cities might be said to be self-examination."   David Byrne

One of the greatest pleasures to me of thinking, and the joy of exploring, is the endless discovery inherent in the activity. Listening to David Byrne introduce (via podcast) his new audiobook, Bicycle Diaries, reminds me of why I enjoy his personality and why I’m glad he shares his thoughts and expressions so freely, even if so carefully crafted. I think about this level of sharing after the latest Joy of Health seminar I attended this past Sunday.  Kathy Oddenino’s passion for sharing wisdom is palpable and contagious. The dialogue was fun. The excitement built as the day went on. We continued as we went on to dinner after the seminar. The food was delicious, the company stimulating and warm. I didn’t really think much about “thinking” and speaking as our highest order of senses until I began to study Spiritual Philosophy. I’m reminded always how all of our senses are heightened by learning to consciously use them, with love.  It was a great day.

In his introduction, David Byrne talks about the joys of bicycling. He explains how he expanded his cycling adventures beyond Soho in New York, the neighborhoods where he lives and visits most frequently, to exploring big cities around the world. What a way to chronicle places, visions of how and where we live, what we live with and what we leave behind and change as we live and move on. 

I feel this way about the sky, and capturing pictures of clouds as the light and seasons change. I think this comes from my early fascination with clouds and their colors as I looked out of airplane windows as a child, crossing the Atlantic back and forth. Some of the visuals are still vivid in my mind – that heaving dark water so far below, the trails and wisps and banks of clouds as the sun set and rose. It was captivating, fantastic to me. The joy of just watching has come back to me now, after years of not really thinking as much about it. Looking at the weather map this morning on the news gave me a portrait of an “epic storm” and its path across the Midwest and then East.  Pictures of the aftermath showed up from different areas along the path. Tornadoes with hurricane-force winds! Here, today, the sun is shining brightly even as a breeze is blowing through the trees and big thick clouds build and then blow by. It is summertime-warm. I’m sweating. The windows are open and the fans are blowing. Tree leaves are changing color and the big oak that was hit by lightning a few months ago is withering  brown and grey, still statuesque.

I can relate these visions to the energy of personalities and how we change. It is a bit like looking at bellows, an accordion. I feel my cells living and breathing, from a small fractal into larger fractals, and I now recognize the personality patterns and how I have lived them/expressed them throughout my life. I see the patterns I’m working (thinking) through to change completely into new, loving patterns. Chrysalis to flight.

I think the heart of the lesson is this: sometimes when I am immersed in, or have a new dose of knowledge, of “medicine” as knowledge (such as a seminar), I am at first very excited, thoroughly motivated, energized by it. As the knowledge settles into my mind, my body, my energy fields, I accept it on some levels of energy and not as easily at other levels of thinking, where I have to acknowledge and BE the changes totally.  Like the weather, my energy patterns move and change! I react to the thought energy (of love, invitation to change, to BE love) at some levels that I am not immediately conscious of, and these are the levels that trigger my irritation, confusion ( resistance!) until known. As I make myself conscious of these energies, I can change them – as if spreading them out on a table. I feel the energy more intensely, and am also aware of the reality (truth) of my energy as I interact with others. The truth plays out as I Am, in that moment, always invited to change, to love. Love is the healing energy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Perfect Sheets of Rain" -James M. Turner's Beyond the Comfort Zone

I like the opportunities that “blog tours” offer authors and their potential audiences. I just read James Turner’s Beyond the Comfort Zone, and I hope lurking readers of my blog will visit his web site and re-think what “adventure” means and what motivates our choices in life and in death.  Listening to a CNN interview with Ingrid Betancourt fits with what I think about Jim Turner’s book. Betancourt’s book, Even Silence has an End, has just been published. She has an incredible story – as I listened to her and watched the video clips I remembered when she and her compatriots were released from captivity in Colombia, she after six years!  She talked about not being the hero she might have wanted to be in moments; that she and her fellow captives lived in “the mud,” emotionally too – but in the mud there were and are diamonds. She braved not only the terror of captivity and living in the jungle, but threats on her life by men, animals, elements, and the fatigue and fear itself. Obviously she has courage – she was a presidential candidate at the time she was captured. When she could bathe, she bathed in the river with piranhas and snakes and all manner of other creatures. The men were horrible, she says, not sensitive at all to a woman’s needs, and the jungle habitat exacerbated the insensitivity. What does it mean to be civilized? What does refinement do for us, and how do we evolve ourselves?

Last month I attended a two-day class on the Spiritual Philosophy of the Joy of Health, which helped me to think again more deeply about the Ethical Values and the behavior I (and we humans) live as an Ethical Being.  How do we define love?  What have I accomplished in my life? What have I learned?  Each life adds to our knowledge of what it means to live.  A friend talked about his early philosophy of life: do all and everything I can and need to do while I have the vigor – I reap what I sow! 

I used to think more in terms of having something physical to show for my efforts as the validation (success?) for my choices. I still feel this way, but my perception of what “having something physical to show for my efforts” has changed, deepened. Knowing what motivates me and why, and responding to such a deep call to “do something,” regardless of the perceived risk, shows me how well I “know myself.” This shows me also how well I know what it means to be human! If I don’t know what it means to be human, how can I help myself and contribute to the growth and joy of humanity as a whole, as an energy being?

James Turner offers a vividly told story (“memoir/thriller,” as one interviewer suggested) of his life experience which began in England and took him to Southeast Asia, a region he loves as his own. His love for the people and the energy of the place, the land, shows throughout. 

“The next day unable to sleep I awoke early, brewed a fresh pot of coffee and took it outside onto the balcony seating myself in my usual chair. In the distance monsoon rain clouds, inky black and laced with lightening, raced across the valley floor some forty miles away. Perfect sheets of rain, their edges crisp at that distance, fell from each group of black cotton candy and shafts of bright amber light separated each group of clouds. Like torch beams they illuminated swatches of the lush green rice paddies beyond the Hang Dong road all the way to Doi Inthannon. The golden singular spire of Wat Suan Dok rose majestically two blocks to the west seemingly painted in 3D relief against the shifting backdrop of the oncoming storm. It was an awesome sight.” (118-119)

Turner’s background, beginning with an interest in music that took him to a precipitous climb of a rock-star career, seems dizzying, exhausting, and thrilling. It led to his marriage breaking up, and to a re-evaluation of Now, what?

He describes the gravity of the situation – having undertaken an entire change of life, home, family, leaving behind what he had known as his life for an entirely new environment where he didn’t know the language and didn’t know a single soul. At first his isolation overwhelmed him. He quickly overcame this sense and took upon himself the education of the Thai culture – the language, the people, the smells, sights, customs, history, each nuance he could absorb and discover. 

“Tucking into the succulent handmade sausages and fragrant coffee, I allowed myself to remember a life before Burma, and wondered what life would be like post this tangential interlude. Hoping above all I had the fortitude to rise again, now that the shroud had been pulled from my own perceived reality. “ (294)

Turner is clearly an adventurer, someone who appreciates the flavors and beauty of life as he knows it.  I laughed out loud in places (such as the late-night “massage” place where they and other patrons stumbled over each other in their attempt to escape the police raid. The scene he describes is hilarious! You’ll have to read it to get the whole picture). Turner feels the compulsion to help these girls and boys who are trafficked, treated so inhumanely – and in the course of following his friend’s prompting too, he learns the complications of people in other circumstances and environments and what making each choice might mean to them. His own world-view grows exponentially.

“Had we, I wondered, done something important? I hoped the girls and that young boy would come to understand the chances we had taken, the reasons why the events of today had taken place. I hoped that they now stood a chance of some kind of future, and I wondered on the lives of the few we’d had to leave on the other side.” (349)

Jim answered some questions for me when we talked about his new book.

What are the responses you've gotten so far from your book? Have your friends and family read it?
Response has been outstanding so far, it really seems to resonate with people on a very personal level. I'm very grateful for that. As for friends and family, I learnt long ago in my life as a musician that you have to develop a sense of honest critique of your own work, after that the public will let you know soon enough how good or bad it is. Friends and family will seldom offer the candour you need to make creative decisions, they are really just a salve for the soul. The question you pose which may sound like 'What do you think?' should perhaps be re-phrased 'tell me how great this is, my ego needs it!' From the people I know personally who've read it the reactions vary from pride to incredulity, it is a ride quite far from the edge.
How do you define friendship? Are you and Franco still close friends?
It's difficult to define friendship because it operates on so many levels that are often unique to the individual. For me friendship is something that is earned through your interactions with others and is something offered without conditions. I'm not sure that what Franco and I had could be called friendship in the sense I defined it above because if I am honest, at the time, our relationship was a complicated transactional mix of friendship based on need. He seems to have disappeared back down the rabbit hole he appeared from, friends tend not to do that. But I hope I have portrayed him honestly, flaws and all. I certainly get asked a lot of questions about him 
How would you define integrity? Have you changed your definition of integrity since you made the choice to directly engage in interrupting "human traffickers"?
I think integrity is doing the right thing when the world may never know and having no thought of reward for your actions. I think my sense of what integrity is has remained pretty solid despite my encounters. Sadly it has also brought to my attention how much the world is lacking in it.  
What is your definition of humility? Tell us about someone you know who is humble, and how they live this energy.
Humility is always leaving the door open to the possibility that you may be wrong in your belief of a firmly held concept, and that everyone has something profound to teach you. I think anyone who says they are humble, probably by definition isn't.  
Who are some of your favorite musicians? Why?
Players like David Sanborn for defining a particular sound for an instrument. Singers like Al Green for moments of emotional perfection in a recording. Composers like Ennio Morricone for marrying music to picture in such an extraordinary way consistently over so many years. 
Why Southeast Asia?
It's a region I've been travelling to for many years (decades now) and it is steeped in all the aforementioned qualities of humility and a gentleness that has to be experienced to understand. Not to mention it has some of the most exciting cities and beautiful scenery anywhere on the planet - in my opinion anyway.  
Do you believe that as humans we live many physical lives?
It's a nice idea isn't it. I'm not sure that I believe it, but I do see that a belief in this (in certain cultures) creates a spiritual framework where there is little guilt directed by an omnipresent religious body - as in judeo christian beliefs. If you don't get it right, well just come back and try harder. I'm also reminded of a frequent sight on the fruit stalls of Thailand, where wasps the size of your thumb are being gently collected in a plastic bag or bottle to be ushered away to safety. I can't imagine that happening in NYC or London. I certainly like the way a belief in reincarnation encourages a respect for the personal right to live of every being - be it a cockroach or a humming bird. 
What does compassion mean to you?
You do ask some very difficult questions! I believe that compassion is the salient, acted upon belief that every human being has a right to a chance at a life of substance and meaning as they define it. And that people are flawed and fail, and should not be punished for doing so. Now,....on to the meaning of life......