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Understanding How Others Feel

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Early on a summer evening I watched a car pull up and park in front of my home. Without reading the posted parking signs, three young adults got out and walked up the street. Thinking they were possibly visiting a neighbor, I waited a few minutes to see if they returned with a parking pass. When they did not come back, I guessed they had gone to a local restaurant.

Although it was their responsibility to read the signs, I knew how I would feel if I returned from a fun evening to find a forty-five-dollar parking ticket. Instead of having them learn the hard way, I wanted to alert them to the parking restrictions through a positive experience.

As a resident, I am able to receive a special number from the police department that allows visitors to park. I called for the number and taped it to their car’s windshield for the parking officer to see. I also left a note on the driver’s side window that said, “I did not want you to receive a ticket, since there is no parking on this street after 6:00 p.m. without a pass.” A few hours later, the car was gone. All that night and well into the next day, I had the amazing feeling that comes from performing an anonymous act of kindness.

Although we may never meet the people we help, being kind puts us in the position of understanding how others feel. Kindness is having empathy so we become enriched by another’s happiness.

Each day you and I are given countless opportunities to express our good and charitable heart. Regardless of what form it takes, the kindness and caring we give others not only helps them, it also creates positive energy that returns to us in so many different ways.

Kindness connects us to other people, reducing feelings of loneliness and emotional isolation. Caring and generous people attract giving people to them. By being considerate people, we will be liked by others.

Compassion decreases anger and depression and increases positive feelings and our general outlook on life. Being generous, affectionate, and nurturing promotes the release of endorphins that make us happy, calm, and improve our sense of well-being.

Acts of generosity and empathy keep us connected to the emotional warmth of our heart. Not only does being kind keep us heart-centered, researchers have found that kindness makes our heart healthier, too, because emotional warmth produces hormones in the brain and throughout the body which help lower blood pressure.

Today, and every day look for ways to spread kindness. Treating other people as you want to be treated is the foundation of all the world’s religions and spiritual practices. There is a very good reason compassion is so revered. The energy we put out is returned to us.

My Special Super Man

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I was raised in a strict God-fearing fundamentalist Christian church in the Southern part of the United States. I was taught God is angry, vengeful and male.

Surrounded by men who also believed God is male, I grew up hating God. If God was a man then he was a jerk too.

The men in my life often behaved like as*holes, raging and abusing their patriarchal power. At age eleven I was molested by male babysitter who threatened to “Cut off my tits,” if I ever told anyone. At seventeen I finally confessed to my parents I am gay. I was told, “You’re a business risk and you need to change.” I was sent to a physician who also molested me before helping lock me up in a psychiatric hospital.

I lost count how many men of all ages felt entitled to shout out, “Hey, Lesbo all you need is a good F*ck to straighten you out!” Or “What a waste.” Or “What the hell do you lesbians do without the goods,” while grabbing their crotch.

The women in my life reinforced door-mat gender inequality by teaching me I must bow to the wishes of men. I was told to lose at sports on purpose so that boys would feel good about themselves. I was taught boys would like me if I reinforced how much better they were than me.

It was devastating to my self-esteem and sexual identity to be programmed to believe in a male God who wanted me to find a husband, have kids, be a good, subservient wife and do what I was told.

I felt terribly alone. For this girl, who was already doomed to hell for being gay, there was no one to offer support. I was abandoned with no one to share the pain and confusion of being born into a world where even if I had been straight I’d still be considered a second-class citizen. Who I was supposed to be, according to religion, society and my peers, did not come close to who I really am.

How was I going to survive in a world where I stood out so badly?

I was well into my thirties when a big man and his little wife moved in next door and I began to see another side to the story about God, men, door-mat women and being gay.

Well over six feet tall, with hair to his waist, he was an artist who looked like a biker. Calm, collected, intelligent, he treated all women with respect, spoke to me with kindness and concern and was genuinely interested in me as a person.

He was not afraid to wear black nail polish or shave his legs for an upcoming bike race. He melted when holding a baby and was passionately devoted to his petite wife. He was strong and self-assured, but soft in his love for animals and for me.

During the next seven years he became my best friend, my super-man. The marathon hours we spent talking and sharing slowly opened my heart. I learned true intimacy has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with bearing your soul to another and having that person hold your heart safe. Especially when disagreeing.

You see, my super-man did not believe in God. Yet, he was more gentle and supportive than any man in my life who’d professed to be God-loving. No matter how much I hated God for being male, I was torn because I truly wanted to believe, to have faith in a caring power greater than myself. But that had been impossible to do because there had not been one kind, accepting and supportive male figure in my life.

Until my God-denying big man arrived and for the first time, I felt safe to share the pain of being born a gay woman in a male-dominated world filled with religiously justified hate, inequality and oppression.

He listened as I cried buckets of tears over my anger and frustration with both men and women. He encouraged discussions of why we do not appreciate, honor, and support each other as equals regardless of our sexuality or gender. He supported my view that gender and sexual inequality is in part a result of the religious labeling of supreme consciousness as male. He agreed labels separate, elevate, ostracize and judge. As soon as a label is placed on something or someone, our arrogance latches onto it. This limits us from being open to see any other possibility, even if the label perpetuates the abuse of power over others with discrimination and domination.

Although he did not believe in God he believed all relationships whether gay, straight, with family or friends should be based on acceptance, kindness and respect. He assured me being a confident gay woman did not mean I was a bi*ch. It was okay to be angry with men who abuse their power and justify the control and suppression of women. It’s also okay to be upset with women who perpetuate the idea we are less than men.

Thanks to my atheist big man who deeply loves, my attitude changed 180 degrees for the better. I went from hating the worst of men to loving the best of them.  Today my closest friends are men. I gratefully acknowledge my change of heart is the result of being deeply loved by one very special Super man.

To be Accepted for Just Being, Me

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I was born different. Weren’t we all? Some of us have green eyes, some brown. Some are light skinned, some dark. We have red hair, brown hair, kinky hair, curly hair.

Human beings are a beautiful weave of colors and cultures, different branches of the same family tree. We are unique by design, just as no two snowflakes or fingerprints are the same. And yet, we still have a difficult time accepting, honoring, and nurturing our differences.

Around age four or five, I knew I was “gay.” I don’t know how I knew, when I didn’t even understand what that meant, but I did. It was not a choice I made, but an understanding deep within my heart that growing up and finding a man to marry was just not for me. Yet from the first time I stepped into a church, I was taught to believe I was going to hell. What a lonely, depressing, and negative thing to ask someone to believe — especially a child.

Going against what was considered the norm was not some act of early-childhood rebellion on my part. There was enough schoolyard bullying, screwed-up family life, and feelings of unworthiness without adding another reason for me to feel detested. No, I did not intentionally choose to stick out in a world where I was surrounded by people who believed their God hated me for being gay, which enabled them to feel justified to hate me too.

The judgment I encountered based on one aspect of who I am didn’t make sense in my heart of hearts. Even as a young child I questioned how, when the basic message of all faith is to “treat others as you want to be treated,” could I not be worthy? How was it possible that spirituality was intended to be an exclusive, criteria-based membership, a contest of me against other people, or a practice based on fearing some unseen, angry, condemnatory presence? Wasn’t spirituality the individual quest to connect with the spark of loving kindness within my heart and behave motivated by that spark? Didn’t that mean supporting others as I wanted to be supported, loving as I wanted to be loved, accepting others as I wanted to be accepted, and being the best person possible?

No, I was not straight. But my actions were good-hearted. I once took a dying chrysanthemum from my aunt’s porch and replanted it next to her driveway, where it thrived for many years. Another time, while on vacation with my family, rather than poke around a roadside trinket shop, I spent time giving water to a donkey tied up in the hot sun.

No, I was not a girly girl waiting to meet Prince Charming. But as a little girl I asked my mom to buy shoes for a shoeless classmate, and I asked my dad for baseball equipment for the children at the orphanage.

No, I was not “right” in the eyes of those who find it easy to judge and hate difference in the name of their God. But I loved animals, flowers, the outdoors, and sports. I fantacized about being a superhero, defending the planet from evil villains bent on world domination. As a superhero, I would carry an extra sandwich to school for a friend who didn’t bring a lunch, rescue moths from spider webs, and dry off little birds that had been caught in torrential thunderstorms.

All I ever wanted was to be accepted for just being me. But no matter how well-behaved, or kind, or friendly I was, I remained doomed for not falling in line and adopting the fearful, judgmental beliefs that were being shoved on me. Attempting to accept the limited, disparaging idea that I needed to be straight caused me such anxiety, suffering, and feelings of unworthiness and shame that I lived in constant fear. It felt as if I were slowly being crushed beneath the oppressive weight of powerlessness and hopelessness. I thought life was too painful to continue, but I did not give up. Instead, I questioned why there was such hatred of my being gay. It was just not right, or loving, or Godlike.

To survive, I learned that challenging my beliefs was imperative. The people who teach us what to believe, answer our questions, and mirror society’s behaviors are passing along what they’ve been exposed to. Love, support, and acceptance are learned, as are injustice, hate, and bigotry. So just because we’ve been taught to believe something doesn’t necessarily make it true. Likewise, just because we’re taught not to believe something doesn’t necessarily make it false. One of our most important spiritual responsibilities is to courageously question beliefs that don’t align with the positive, loving, inclusive behaviors of our heart.

Only through assessment did I come to realize that being gay is not a punishment from a divine source. Doctors, psychologists, and educators have concluded that sexual orientation is not a choice. Although there is no simple, single cause, research suggests that a combination of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences determines it.

As far as religious references, I found that only six or seven of the one million–plus verses in the Bible address same-sex relationships. None of those verses refers to homosexual orientation as it is understood today. Modern scholars advise us that the biblical verses regarding same-sex relationships, as well as others throughout ancient religious texts, need to be understood within the context of the ancient societies that produced them. Science now offers tangible proof of why those antiquated beliefs no longer apply to our modern times.

Today I understand that growing up, I didn’t stick out at all. Born an average-looking, conventional, learning-challenged, jeans-wearing, gay tomboy, I was only uncomfortable being myself, as billions of us are. I, too, was brainwashed into believing I was not good enough unless I lived up to other people’s ideals and values.

The truth is, I did try to change, to be “normal.” And I suffered more. Regardless of how hard I tried to fit the mold other people had for me, I failed. Until one day I realized I’m not meant to live another person’s life. I’m only meant to live mine. That was the day I became free to simply be me.

The bottom line is that even if being gay were my choice, we must question how responsible it is to use thousand-year-old texts to rationalize the condemnation of those whose sexuality, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, or socioeconomic status are different from our own.

If we’re going to create lives of love, compassion, and purpose, we have the charge to question what we believe. It is only by asking questions of ourselves and the world that we can improve from generation to generation.

Imagine life without the vast medical advancements of the past couple hundred years. Research and evaluation are how theories and formulas are adapted, adjusted, and made more reliable and applicable or wisely abandoned.

At first we thought the atom was the smallest particle of matter. Then we discovered even smaller particles: electrons, protons, and neutrons. And with particle accelerators, we discovered smaller things yet, called quarks.

Until the mid-twentieth century, we had no idea of the vastness of outer space. Then we discovered that the Earth resides in a galaxy among billions of others.

We are part of a continuous chain of civilizations asking questions and wanting answers. We come to conclusions and pass them on to the next generation. Advancing the complexity of the questions we ask, and making positive adjustments based on our findings, are part of the natural process of change.

Everything is designed to change and progress — the seasons, our planet, nature; scientific, technological, and cosmological discoveries; even ourselves. This means our spiritual beliefs, texts, and practices are meant to change and advance as well. Spiritual advancement ensures that we bring accountability, compassion, and principled excellence to the table when addressing challenges and opportunities.

No matter what is written in ancient texts, we can change what is deemed spiritually responsible as our world changes. Pushing against the status quo is exactly what each enlightened messenger has done and continues to do. Questioning beliefs, including those that hold homosexuality as sinful, is spiritually prudent, particularly since science now provides evidence for biological and environmental causes.

Emerging on the other side of such a painful journey, I learned that the divine power I believe in manifests itself as love. Love does not judge others; not by sexual orientation, skin color, size, or any of the countless ways we are different.

What matters is how responsibly we behave as people of good, compassionate, and kind character. We honor, respect, and nurture individuality. We help make the world a better place by our being alive. We spread acceptance by treating others as we want to be treated. That is something God is very okay with, whether we are gay or not.

The Dangers of Should Have

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When I was a teenager, I stole twenty dollars out of my dad’s wallet.  I knew in my head it was wrong, but my thoughts justified my getting away with it. My dad would not miss the money. Knowing it was wrong in my head did not cause an immediate change in my behavior. I continued to rationalize my bad behavior until one day, I was hit by the truth: Knowing better with our heart or soul is a completely different matter than knowing in our head.

One of the fundamental reasons we ego-box with others is we think they should know better, and therefore do better. By letting them have a piece of our mind, we think we’re going to teach them to do better. Not in my experience. We cannot ego-box with others and expect them to throw their arms around us, kiss our cheek, and admit they are acting like a jerk.  Would you?

When people are cut off from the emotional responsibility of their heart, ego takes over, with endless justifications and rationalizations for negative, thoughtless, and self-centered behavior. It takes sensitive awareness to remain connected to and responsible for the way our actions impact other people and all life. The way we distinguish when people have awakened emotionally is when we see they are no longer blind to their impact on others. They begin seeing themselves in other people and other forms of life, and caring for them.

While growing up, a friend of mine was used as a punching bag by his father. He was the daily target of misplaced rage, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy. Today my friend is a loving, peaceful, and thoughtful father. He chose to break the cycle of abuse by assuming responsibility for dealing with his emotional wounds, in order not to take his baggage out on himself, other people, or living things.

My friend knew better because he made the deliberate choice not to be like his father. He realized no amount of fighting back or screaming at his father had ever changed the man or gotten him to own up to his negative and physically abusive behavior. The only option my friend had was to do better, because he knew better.

When people know better on an emotional level, they do better.  Which means, until people assume responsibility for the way their actions negatively impact others, they will continue to rationalize their bad behavior. Believing other people should have known better, and therefore should have done better, is a fantasy. No matter what anyone else chooses to do, you can choose to let go of the fantasy.

Knowing better with our head and knowing better with our heart, so we actually do better, are two different things. Over the course of my life, I’ve done many things I am not proud of. I knew stealing the twenty dollars out of my dad’s wallet was wrong, but I did it anyway. Then one day I woke up emotionally by putting myself in my dad’s position. I questioned how it would feel to have money stolen from me. Asking “how would it feel?” connected me to a new level of awareness. It made me realize I am personally responsible for the consequences of my actions.

For me, stealing is a big issue, and wrong. For some people, stealing is wrong but still thought of as acceptable behavior.

So yes, those who abuse others comprehend, intellectually, their unsuitable behavior. But no, they do not realize it with emotional consciousness. If they did, it would enable the sensitivity of their heart to overrule the rationalizations of their egocentric mind and control their behavior.

I was around age eleven when a sixteen-year-old male babysitter molested me. He said, “I’ll cut your tits off if you ever tell anyone what I am doing.” I was terrified. Since he was the son of one of our neighbors, I was forced to see him often. I felt completely powerless. I had to keep the secret, unable to expose him or ask for protection.

When I was seventeen, a physician casually ordered his nurse to leave the room so he could molest me in private. He justified his actions as being part of the examination. But I knew he was touching me inappropriately.

These are two examples of times I’ve been deeply hurt or betrayed by the actions of others. For years I held onto the pain of being let down, ridiculed, bullied, slandered, persecuted, and abused. A continuous loop of negative memories played in my mind, keeping me shackled to a suitcase of blame and resentment for unjust mistreatment. Each day I grew angrier and more self-destructive from holding on to what I thought the people who hurt me should have done differently.

Refusing to let go of the fantasy of what could have been was like endlessly tearing a scab off a wound, preventing it from ever healing. I was unhappy and misguided, wandering aimlessly through life without the ability to focus on much else other than the growing list of ways I had been victimized. Perpetuating an angry-victim persona caused me to spiral downward into a state of constant annoyance, blame, and lack of self-respect.

Frustrated and feeling like a prisoner of the past, I finally sought help. I got other people’s advice. I went to a counselor. I attended support groups. I looked outside myself for years for the answer to how to heal. Yet no matter who or what I brought in to help, no matter how good the advice, I did not achieve the release I wanted until one day, like a bucket of ice water thrown in my face, the truth opened my eyes. To heal, I had to intentionally choose to move away from the past by no longer expecting people to know better.

The “aha” moment necessary for me to begin healing was accepting the lack of understanding on the part of the people who hurt me. They did not know better with the sensitivity of their heart.  No matter what happened to me back then, or what may have happened yesterday in an encounter with a rude driver, I was the one choosing to relive the negative event in the present. I was choosing to keep the hurt and resentment alive by assuming people who behave rudely, self-centeredly, and in hurtful ways should know better.

Those who mistreat others are oblivious to the pain they inflict. Even if the person who cut us off in traffic and then flipped us the bird were to emotionally wake up, assume responsibility for his actions, and beg our forgiveness, the past would still remain unchanged. What is done is done.

The act of understanding we cannot change the past allows us to wrap our heart around the truth: We are the only one capable of changing our present circumstances. To have the best rest of our life, we must take our power back by releasing the idea “people should have known better.”

Unless people are actively working to heal from their past pain, they unconsciously pass their injury onto others. We must remember, those people are clueless about how to change themselves to better their lives. So we must be the one who chooses to become more awake and aware. We are the one who takes responsibility for ourselves, our past, and our wounds, because it is by healing the holes within our heart that we become whole.

We have to be the one who ends the wounded dynamic from which we came.  Each of us must look within to find the source of our pain. Each of us must make the decision to heal. Healing our issues is all about the actions we take to release the resentment that came from wanting someone, or some situation, to be different than it was.

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If you are currently in an abusive situation, you must set a boundary with those people who hurt you. You must choose to respect yourself and walk away, if necessary. No matter how your heart might long for the other person to know better, they will not have a clue about their negative behavior until they choose to look at themselves with the honesty of their own heart.

Whether it is dealing with past abuse or someone who stole from you, release your “they should have known better” fantasy. Since you know negative behavior is not the way to create your best life, it is up to you to be the one who does better. The solution to healing your past and staying peaceful in the present is to let your behavior be proof: you know to do better.

Who We Really Are

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I am far from perfect yet I have worked hard all of my life, and continue to do so, to establish myself as a kind, honest, responsible, peaceful, thoughtful, supportive, and respectful person.

I return the extra money given to me when someone makes a mistake. I pay my taxes. I obey the law. I look for the best in others. I give people the benefit of the doubt. When faced with temptation I intentionally choose to take the high road because doing the right thing makes life easier, more loving and fulfilling – even if it is hard to do. I am an open book with nothing to hide and no one to hide it from. And, each day I attempt to make the world a kinder and more peaceful place. So, I am confident all who know me will attest to and defend my  love in action character.

Yet, in today’s world my reputation as someone of responsible, kind and loving character could easily be damaged. Regrettably every day you and I see attempts to destroy the reputation of others. Some people seem to derive pleasure from participating in gossip, slander, and tearing down their fellow human beings. Some people are motivated by spite, money, revenge, wounded pride, or jealousy and actively attempt to hurt others. They do not hesitate to create false news and often create fake photos to support the lies they share. It seems we hear about this destructive behavior frequently in our social media and up-to-the-minute news reporting.

But, no matter what some among us choose to do, I will always hold onto a deep faith that the vast majority of us refuse to condone the creation of false stories and photos. The majority of us refuse to participate in slander and character assassination. The majority of us understand the desire to tear others down in an attempt to build ourselves us is motivated by fear, a lack of self-confidence, irresponsibility, and a self-centered agenda. And, I am confident the majority of us will continue to seek truth by consulting those who adhere to an ethical and moral code of reporting based on factual investigation.

As an ambassador of love I will continue to strive to be a person of impeccable character. I will continue to work hard to do as God asks us – to treat others as I want to be treated. Of course I will never be perfect, but I will continue to exercise the self-control necessary to keep myself from tearing others down to build myself up. I will continue to support others as I want to be supported. I will continue to consider the moral and ethical history of someone as a whole in order to determine who they truly are inside, just as I want the full body of my life’s actions and words to be considered when determining who I truly am.

Confidence is an Inside Job

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Do you feel like you are your own person? Or do you feel insufficient without someone to complete you? Do you fear being abandoned? Or are you okay being on your own? Have you established your own worth? Or do you seek approval from outside yourself?

At one time, I had no self-confidence. I was insecure, needing other people to validate my existence. I would try to fix other people or completely lose myself in relationship. I sought approval from outside myself. I needed someone to complete me.

I was afraid of being abandoned. I clung to friends and the people I dated so tightly I smothered them with my insecurity.  In the end, every one of the “I must have you in my life” relationships ended.

At the time, I did not realize the fear of being abandoned had nothing to do with other people and everything to do with me.  I discovered other people are not responsible for always staying with me. I am the only constant in my life.  So my fear of abandonment, while rooted in childhood, was really about how I was abandoning myself.

Each time I did not stay aligned with my principles and values and went along with the crowd or allowed people to abuse me, I abandoned myself.  When I was financially irresponsible, or went against what I knew in my heart was best for me, or looked to someone else to make me happy, I abandoned myself.  WOW! What a wake-up call to realize the entire time I feared being abandoned, I was abandoning myself.

I have not feared being abandoned for many years.  I cannot make other people stay in my life, and it is not comfortable to have people who are clingy and fearful of being abandoned in mine.  I am the best friend and biggest supporter I’ll ever have, and my happiness and peace are the result of remaining true to myself by behaving with impeccability. When I accepted this, I released the fear of being abandoned.

Love yourself by taking time to uncover who you are and what you really want from life. Self-confidence comes from being comfortable marching to your own music, creating your own style, and refusing to just follow the crowd. Self-confidence comes from ending dependency and fears of being abandoned by not abandoning yourself. Self-confidence comes from refusing to waste time attempting to get other people to change. When you wisely invest the same energy in making the necessary changes to yourself, you will be comfortable in your own skin.

Self-confidence comes from being okay knowing there is no one coming to your rescue. Be your own superhero, your own knight in shining armor, by accepting this reality: A healthy sense of self-worth comes from knowing confidence is an inside job.

Change Begins by Accepting What Is

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After two months at a job selling advertising for a small, family-owned newspaper, I was fired. There was no warning. There was no indication my performance was less than acceptable. In fact, I had received praise for increasing ad revenue. It did not make sense that I was abruptly terminated. Regardless of how much I wanted to identify the reason, no one in the company returned my calls. I became angry and depressed. Without accepting the reality that sometimes things happen with no logical explanation, I was stuck, unable to move on. For the next few months I did little to find a new job.

Many years ago I dated an alcoholic. I did not recognize the condition in the beginning, but over time it became clear as the incidents of intoxication began to add up. After each occurrence there was an apology, a request for forgiveness, and a promise it would not happen again. No matter how much I wanted the drinking to stop, it did not. No matter how much I prayed for follow-through on the promise to seek help, there was none.  I chose to believe what was promised, rather than accepting the repeated actions as proof of what was actually true. The result is that I stayed in the abusive relationship far too long.

A family I am acquainted with lost a child to a tragic accident. Before the accident, the father was a pillar of strength. He was also kind, compassionate, and had a positive outlook on life. That changed. Over the next few years he sank deeper into depression, clinging to what he thought should, would, or could have been. Blame was cast, lawsuits were filed, and a focus on revenge erased the memories of his once joyful life. Without the ability to forgive and deal with the tragedy, he was not able to be thankful for the joy life still held for him. He died a frail and bitter man unable to move on.

How much precious time do we waste wanting other people or situations to be different from how they are? Positive change begins by honestly looking at how unreasonable it is to suffer under the false impression we have the power to control or manipulate other people or the negative, frustrating, inconvenient, or heartbreaking situations we encounter in life.

Maybe someone leaves us for another or just ends the relationship. We have two choices. We can be angry, dwelling on what we think should be, but isn’t. Or we can mend our heart by learning from the experience, feeling our sadness, and picking ourselves up to move on. We choose to exchange a fantasy of the past and what “should be” for the opportunity to create a better “what is” reality in the present. This same formula works with whatever situations life throws at us.

Traffic jams and other delays are a frequent part of life. We do not receive the job we badly want and need. We realize we are in relationship with an abuser. We become conscious we are the one with a problem. The people and pets we love are sometimes taken away from us through illnesses or tragic accidents.

Relationships end. Our affection for another is not reciprocated. We slip and break an ankle. Our car is damaged by a hit-and-run driver. We lose our wallet or keys or our purse is stolen. Our luggage becomes lost or our flight is delayed or cancelled. We are diagnosed with cancer. Our parents become ill or their behavior radically changes. Someone is rude to us.

No amount of anger, yelling, worry, or desire for revenge changes what is real in the moment at hand. Only by accepting the present circumstance for what it is, rather than what we think it should, would, or could be, do we help ease the stress and upset that comes from the misconception we can control or change people and the uncontrollable and unchangeable situations of life.

When something happens in life that upsets your plans, take a deep breath. Slow down. Count to five. Relax into the truth that only by accepting what is real in the present can you take the necessary action to leave an abusive relationship. Or rebound from losing a job. Or seek help for an addiction. Or deal with an illness. Or appropriately honor the memory of a loved one.

Change begins when you accept what is, so you can begin to create what you want to be.

Listening to Candlelight

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The match head bounces roughly along the edge of the matchbook.  On first strike it ignites in a flash of orange sparks and threatens to go out with each step I take. I carefully deliver life to a candle sitting close to my bed.

Technology provides life-saving medicines and jet-propelled shuttles.  Electricity, the pulse of our daily life, continues to flicker on and off with regularity.

Glowing warmly, the candle illuminates a small corner of my room.  At first it crackles and sputters as the wax of a new wick struggles to catch fire.  Soon it burns steadily, with only an occasional flicker when a draft from a half-closed window sweeps through the room.

Surveying my surroundings, I am unaffected by the dust on the dresser or the pair of worn jeans tossed haphazardly across a far corner chair.  I take a book from the nightstand and settle down.   Reading by candlelight sounds romantic, but it is difficult.  Nevertheless, watching television, listening to the radio, or dusting will have to wait.

I close my eyes and am cradled in darkness.  My mind circles and wanders through thoughts of the day.  Resisting the urge to put pen to paper and begin a list of things to do, I allow myself to drift.  The peaceful sound of rain carries me away.

… I grab the shiny chrome handlebars of my new blue Schwinn and snap my eyes shut.  With the confidence I have been given superhero ability to ride a bike with my eyes closed, I pedal fast.  Two seconds pass, possibly five, of blissful riding, then crash, into a neighbor’s sedan.  As I am falling to the pebble-strewn pavement, my mind anticipates my father’s looks and my reproach. I’m not badly hurt, but my superhuman powers are not strong enough to stop a tear from falling as a drop of blood appears from a small cut on my knee.  Softly Mom kisses my wound and tenderly places a band-aid on it. A gentle reminder to be careful and watch for parked cars…

… Easter.  A small yellow mass sits in my cupped hands.  My sister, two years younger, rubs her chubby finger over the baby chick’s head.  I watch carefully, observing each stroke, cautious.  My sister’s eyes are wide with wonder as she lifts the downy soft feathers to investigate the tiny chick.  Being older and more experienced, I am hesitant to let her touch it for too long.  I use my sweetest voice to convince her baby chicks must have rest between petting.   The chick cheeps loudly as it is released. My sister and I watch as it determinedly pecks at invisible things hiding in the grass…

… After asking three times, I hesitate at a fourth for fear of being scolded for breaking mother’s concentration, again.  The highway is narrow. In the back seat, where I am sitting with my window wide open, I feel a whoosh as each car passes too closely, I feel, to ours.  At five, I am a backseat driver. As we travel the single-lane highways of South Texas, I search the horizon for over-the-line autos, stray cows, and soda shops close to a turn-off.  Three hours seem an eternity when traveling to Granny’s house. After only minutes, the games were played, songs sung, snacks eaten, and not one cow in sight.  I curl up on the floorboard and listen to the tires on the road.

Lulled into a sleepy state, I feel the rhythm as we cross a wooden bridge — click-clack, click-clack, click-clack — a rapid cadence.  I scurry up to the window just as we complete the crossing and reach the pavement again.  Back on the floorboard, I am soon stirred by a honk.  I untangle my arms and legs in time to return the bald man’s wave as we pass his car.  Without asking, mother volunteers: only twenty minutes more. Soon I leap from the confinement of my back-seat responsibilities and into the arms of my Granny…

… A temporary captive of lace and bows, I rush to my room and quickly shed my Sunday best.  Almost tripping over the dress as it clings to my ankles, I jump high, finally achieving the altitude necessary to free myself from the bright green material.  Hurriedly I don jeans and a T-shirt.

Piling into the car as we do most Sunday afternoons, we are off — my best friend, his brother, my sister, and our moms.  The winding road to the park reminds me of a snake, weaving in and out of tall grass.  We pass duck ponds, a golf course, and the horse arena, arriving at last to a playground full of adventure — but without swings, slides, or merry-go-rounds.

Unspoiled, this part of the Guadalupe River is teaming with opportunity.  Thick vines cascade from sturdy live oaks lining the river’s edge.  Run-off channels rise from the river up to the street.

“I’m a pioneer,” my best friend exclaims, scampering up the gully on a mission to discover uncharted territory.  Following quickly behind, I search for buffalo.

The afternoon sun beats down. Squinting against the bright reflection from the river below, I watch as my sister struggles to climb up, my friend’s little brother close behind.  We toss a few clods of dirt over the side, a bombardment intended only to discourage younger siblings from following. Mother and her friend pass the time at a picnic table close to the river.

It seems we are there too briefly when a honk signals the roundup has begun. In the car, I take a final glance back as we reach the top of the hill, realizing it will be at least six days before we return to the wonder of this place…

It is still dark outside as I slowly open my eyes.  The vibrant memories of childhood summers pass rapidly.  Softball games with hot dogs, summer camp and mosquitoes, band concerts and school fairs, and endless memories of growing up in a small, weather-beaten Texas town.

The candle burns brightly as I revisit a steady stream of friends and events long forgotten.  As I close my eyes again, I make note not to wait for a storm to plunge routines into darkness before I return to the sights and sounds discovered while listening to candlelight.

HUGE Gift, Small Package

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A gentle thud caught my attention. This sound was curiously familiar.  As a bird lover, I know immediately when one has been temporarily blinded by the sun’s reflection, causing it to crash heavily into one of the many windows in my home. I rated this sound similar, yet lighter, reminiscent of one human finger placing a single sharp rap on a pane of glass.

I hurried to the kitchen window that wrapped itself around the right back corner of my house, offering a magnificent view of the tree-filled backyard. Scanning the bushes and grass close to the house, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. I rushed down the steps and reached the bottom just as one of my dogs, Charlie, who had been roused from a nap by the sound, arrived there. We headed in the same direction, stopping at the hydrangea bushes lining the flower bed beneath the window. There, on a single leaf, lay a hummingbird. I scooped up the tiny bird before Charlie could get the notion to do it himself, and headed back up the stairs into the safety of the house. Charlie remained for some time, sniffing for the source of the odd smell that lingered in the air.

Once inside, I opened my hand. Cradled there was one of the most spectacular beauties of Mother Nature, tiny and still. The bird’s eyes were shut. It was stunned by the impact, but it was still alive. I saw it breathing, and with one finger pressed lightly against its chest, I felt the rapid beating of its heart.

It was a male Ruby-throated, the widest ranging of all North American hummingbirds. I remember as a child growing up in South Texas, they were constant visitors throughout the spring and fall. The tiny bird was common in Central Alabama, too. I often watched three or four competing at my feeder. Almost invisible, they dove, and darted, and dive-bombed, and somehow miraculously avoided colliding with each other. Cheeping and clicking, they delivered strong protests to others who tried to compete for a spot to rest or feed. I thought them civilized representatives of a natural world with often cruel and uncaring aspects. They are two-inch-long powerhouses of fierce independence. Hummingbirds are always ready to courageously defend their territory, but in a way in which the birds never seem to get hurt. I thought how wonderful it would be if humans, too, could find ways to settle differences without hurting one another.

Sitting on the porch holding the bird, I was content. Rescuing birds, squirrels, mice, and other creatures from nature’s harsh realities is one of the things I do. It’s a common occurrence for me to make a box for a family of robins upended from their nest by a thunderstorm, or find a new home for the mice I might discover while spring cleaning. This, however, seemed a different and more enlightening connection to the natural world.

I had witnessed hummingbirds so many times but never had been this close. Their wings beat so fast they often seemed more fantasy than real. A blur of color flitting from here to there so quickly my eyes could not follow. Nevertheless, here one was, real and still in the palm of my hand. I was able to see up close how its little clawed feet curled slightly and to study the perfectly uniform feathers that covered its small body. The vibrant, iridescent colors of its wings and throat were truly amazing.

We sat together for several more minutes. With each moment, I wondered if it was going to make it. Tenderly I stroked its chest, watched, and waited.

Suddenly it woke up. Flipping up from its side, it sprang to life. It hesitated for a split-second, seeming to gather its bearings. Then it was off, propelled rapidly upward by its awakening. As it cleared the porch, it made a half-circle and returned to where I was sitting. It hovered in front of me, about two feet from my chair, and remained for what seemed a full minute. Never taking its eyes off me, it stayed back, yet was close enough that I could feel a slight breeze from the rapid beating of its wings. As it looked at me, I thought surely it was saying thanks for plucking it off the leaf and keeping it safe for the past half-hour.

I will never know exactly what the little bird was thinking as it made one final circle above my head and flew away. Later I found some tiny feathers on the porch that must have fallen from its wing or tail. They weren’t green like its body, or red like its throat, but white and black and gray. Today I still have those feathers in a very special bowl.

Holding the hummingbird was a miracle. It was an opportunity that taught me to appreciate the things I love, to cherish each moment, and to courageously get back up when life throws a punch. It was an awesome privilege to be given thirty unforgettable minutes when time stood still and I held the most exquisite creature in my hands, to feel its warmth, and to marvel at its magnificence. That little bird taught me to pay very close attention to life, because often the best gifts really do come in the smallest packages.

The Importance of Equality to Attaining Our Infinite Potential

Couple holding hand at sun rise

I was brought up in a fundamentalist Christian church in Texas. I was taught God is angry, vengeful, and male.

The women in my life trained me to bow to the wishes of men. I was instructed to lose at sports on purpose so boys could feel good about themselves. I was regularly treated disrespectfully by the males in my life.

Although illogical to what can be considered Godly and loving, both genders worked in negative and abusive harmony to deliberately fashion me into a second-class citizen. Yet, it was never spiritually comfortable for me to adopt a “less than” mentality. Feelings of unworthiness, inequality, and shame do not ever align with the values necessary to create healthy self-esteem. It took many years to undo the subtle and overt programming of who I am supposed to be as a woman.

I no longer resent men or dislike being female and I no longer allow myself to be treated as “less-than” by anyone. As I surround myself with men and women who value an equal division of labor and evenly balanced responsibilities in the home, I witness the tremendous difference it makes to the esteem of both girls and boys who have fathers and mothers who are equally emotionally present with child-rearing. Confident, peaceful and responsible children develop as a result of parents who foster equality.

Therefore, I question why we, as a global society, persist in not appreciating, honoring, and supporting one another as equals. I believe a major factor is the continued widespread religious labeling of supreme consciousness as male.

The ongoing disdain for women and belittlement of the values commonly associated with the feminine, have a long history in many of the world religions that were founded by men in times when women had no power. In his book Sex, Time and Power, author Leonard Shlain observes:

“The history of Christianity, Islam and Taoism darkly demonstrates that the religions that flowed from the teachings of Jesus, Muhammad and Lao Tzu have been most unkind to women. In every case, after the death of the founder, men with harsh patriarchal leanings seized the reins of power and revised whatever gentle counsel the originators of these traditions may have had to impart about women.”

One indication the supreme consciousness was placed into male form by male authors and translators of the Christian Bible is found in the meaning of the word Jesus used originally to address the Divine in the Lord’s Prayer.  According to the monk Michael Green, “When Jesus lived he spoke Aramaic, an archaic language that frames matters of the Spirit more softly, and perhaps more appropriately, than the truncated Latin, German or English translations of the gospel that are now so much a part of our heritage. Biblical scholars inform us now that when the Son of Mary addressed the mystery of Godhead, the actual word Jesus used is ABWOOM, a term that has always been rendered for us as Our Father, but would be more properly understood as Our Mother-Father-All-in-All.”

Jesus was not the first or last enlightened messenger careful about placing supreme consciousness into a particular form. The following verses from the Upanishads, a collection of sacred Hindu texts addressing the relationship between our human and spiritual being, were written centuries before the birth of Jesus.

. . . That which makes the tongue speak but which cannot be spoken by the tongue—that alone is God, not what people worship.

That which makes the mind think but which cannot be thought by the mind—that alone is God, not what people worship.

That which makes the eye see but which cannot be seen by the eye—that alone is God, not what people worship.

That which makes the ear hear but which cannot be heard by the ear—that alone is God, not what people worship.

Those who realize that God cannot be known, truly know; those who claim that they know, know nothing.

The ignorant think that God can be grasped by the mind; the wise know It beyond knowledge. . . .

Labels separate, elevate, ostracize, and judge. Human ego is quick to box something into its limited interpretation by placing a specific identity upon it. As soon as a label is placed on something or someone, our egocentric arrogance latches on to it. Labels limits us from being open to see any other possibility, even if the label perpetuates the abuse of power over others with discrimination, domination, suffering, and pain.

Regardless what we have been taught to believe, it makes sense to soul if a supreme awareness initiated the events resulting in the creation of everything, then a part of Divine consciousness must reside in all human beings and in all life. Therefore, by design, the original creative consciousness bestowed a spark of itself equally in both men and women.

Judaism teaches every person (Jewish and non-Jewish) was created b’tzelem Elohim, which is Hebrew for “in God’s image.” For this reason, every person is equally important and has an infinite potential to do good in the world. Something Jesus, a Jew, knew and honored.

You and I are the answer to ending genderism and sexism. We stop allowing ancient controlling systems of religious beliefs to dictate what is timely and true for a society that has advanced light-years from then to now. We get on the same page to collectively teach all children how to respect and honor one another as equals because the creator’s plan for human beings was never misogyny and patriarchy.

I agree with author Sharon Smith as she wisely stated in her article, Engels and the Origin of Women’s Oppression. “The solution is for us to make certain we raise a generation of men who never in their lives have known what it is to buy a woman’s surrender with money or any other social instrument of power; a generation of women who have never known what it is to give themselves to a man from any other considerations than real love or to refuse to give themselves to their lover from fear of the economic consequences. When these people are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual–and that will be the end of it.”

To move our universal heart-enlightenment forward we focus on the fundamental premise of all world religions, “Treat others as we want to be treated.” This Divine desire for human beings, to view ourselves as equal children of GOD, will go far in helping us create a world of peace.