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Feel Your Way Through Life

Egg Emotions

It is my experience, and maybe yours too, showing emotion is often associated with people who are weak.  We’re been taught to hide our emotions, to be afraid or ashamed of them. Seriously how healthy does that sound?

What a twisted fantasy it is that stuffing our emotions will cause them to somehow magically disappear and we’ll go on our merry way filled with happiness, inner peace and love.  I don’t know who started the “it’s good to stuff your emotions” idea but it’s not right. We are specifically designed to feel our way through life.  You know what happens when we stuff the natural emotions we’re born with?  Nothing good at all.

For many years I never saw my father express healthy emotion. He grew up in a society where real men didn’t express emotion – ever. I resented him for it. No, let’s be honest, I hated him for it.

Unable or unwilling to accept the vulnerability of expressing healthy emotion made him an angry tyrant. He raged, snorted, and slammed around like a bull in a delicate china shop of two little girls and a scared wife.

“You’re too emotional,” he coldly said as tears streamed down my face at the cruel and horrific scenes of baby harp seals being beaten to death and the close up, slow motion images of prairie dogs being blown to smithereens in the documentaries my father watched on television in the 1960s.

Once my father dragged me out of the shower because my mother had breakfast on the table and he thought I was taking too long. Later that day picking me up from school where I spent the entire day crying, “You’re too emotional” again felt like daggers into my heart. My father stormed through life not giving a damn about the emotions of other living things.

Then one beautiful crisp autumn day all that changed – for good.  My father was hunting and knew he had fatally wounded a deer but could not find it.  Regardless of what an ass he was to me, my sister, our mother, harp seals, and prairie dogs, he was a responsible hunter always using what he took from the natural world. It went against his values to just leave the deer so he searched for hours and hours without success. My father was so exhausted and upset he sat down on a log, buried his head in his hands and sobbed. I believe for the first time ever, or at least in many, many years.

We never know what life-event holds the potential to shake us to the core of our being.  The frustration and helplessness of killing that poor deer and not being able to find it cracked my father’s heart wide open. Years of stuffed emotion came pouring out and through the deer’s death my father was reborn.

From that day forward my dad has been a new man – one who does not hold back tears of sadness, joy or pain. He has a new-found respect and kindness for the natural world and all that call it home. My father is no longer concerned with what “real men” are supposed to do. He knows it takes Super-Men to accept that being gentle enough to express healthy emotion is one of the strongest things they do.

There may be people in your life who seem to manage normally in the day but then they all of a sudden explode.  Maybe you are that person that was exactly my dad. Through his example he taught me to do the same thing – stuff your emotions and then explode.  All we are doing by stuffing is repressing our emotions but emotions can’t be repressed.  Emotions ALWAYS leak out, and sometime gush out onto the innocent in our lives.

You are alive to feel.  You create a healthy life by learning how to positively deal with your emotions.  Don’t stuff them, thinking you’ll deal with them later.  Yes, there are times when it is not appropriate to express anger at your spouse while you are in front of your children.  But don’t ignore the anger by stuffing it.  When it is the right time, express why you are angry but stay calm and communicate clearly.

We cannot continue to perpetuate the stupid idea expressing healthy emotion is not socially acceptable.  Look at the world we are creating as a result or being unfeeling.  Let’s teach our children healthy ways to express their feelings.  That means you and I must know what we’re feeling and why too.  Are you confused, happy, uneasy, positive, fearful, or negative?  Are you tired, excited, motivated, tearful, or shocked? Are you devastated, hopeful, irritated, eager, or compassionate?

Whatever you feel, validate those emotions.  And support those you love in expressing their emotions in healthy ways too.  True healing comes from feeling what you’re feeling.

My Part in Your Happiness

Wake for Video

We’ve all heard happiness comes from within. Someone else cannot make us happy. We must create our own happiness.  That we are not responsible for another person’s behavior, only for how we behave in response.

I agree. Yes, I am in charge of choosing to be happy, for seeing my glass as full rather than empty, for concentrating on the light at the end of the tunnel, for not depending on others for my overall peace and joy, and for opting NOT to ego-box with people who behave rudely.

Yet, the longer I live, the more I observe the daily interactions we have, I am convinced there is another side to the personal happiness coin that needs a lot more press.  The flip side is you are not the only one responsible for your happiness. I play a role too, because my behavior creates a wake of energy sent outward just like a rock creates ripples on a still body of water.

When I was young, I often went out on the boat with my dad. He liked to fish and I enjoyed being with him. I adored the chill of the early morning air and the sunlight dancing on the surface. I was in awe of my dad’s skill as he took aim, casting the lure between the branches of a long-dead tree, now partly submerged in the water near shore.

To reach the magical spot I enjoyed, we first had to cross a big lake. My father made certain my life jacket was on tight. Then he pushed the boat away from the dock. Once we were safely clear, he put the motor in high gear and we were off, speeding toward our destination.

I didn’t enjoy facing into the strong wind created by the high speed. Holding on tight I looked backward, observing the effect the boat had on the water as we raced over the calm surface. Spray shot up over the bow, wetting us. Buoys jerked up and down as we sped by. A flock of ducks quickly took flight, their tranquil morning disturbed by our waves. When we were closer to land, our boat’s wake crashed hard against the shore.

After what seemed an eternity, we arrived. My dad slowed the boat down and turned the noisy, smelly, water-churning engine off. He moved up front to an electric trolling motor that silently propelled us the rest of the way, leaving only a small ripple as evidence of our passing.

As we moved slowly, without upsetting the wildlife, I delighted when dragonflies landed on the boat. Fish swam close by, undisturbed by our presence. Once, a bird came and sat for a brief moment on the steering wheel.

When it came time to head back, I became disappointed. Too soon we were off again, zooming across the lake, our wake disturbing the water and everything on it as we went by.

Many years later, during an especially hard period, it dawned on me: I am like a boat. I too, leave a wake as I travel through life. Today I choose to move at a slower, more purposeful pace, although I have not always selected the right speed and direction – in the form of responsible behavior – that represented me well to myself and the world.

When I wrote a check that bounced, embarrassment caused me to take my frustration out on the people at the mean old bank. When I had loud parties, I ignored the impact on my neighbors. The plastic cup, or bag, or take-out container I carelessly threw in the gutter became part of a swirling mass of trash in the Pacific Ocean. As a smoker I rarely considered the negative impact my cigarettes had on others or my pets. I did not think about who was responsible for cleaning up the cigarette butts I threw on a public street.

The same was true about leaving my shopping cart behind a car, or in the middle of the parking lot with the rationalization, “someone is paid to put it away.” When I was financially irresponsible, it was not responsible to expect family, friends, the government, or strangers to bail me out.

There was a time when I behaved as a fast boat, churning up waves of drama and chaos that crashed hard over me and others. Looking back, I realize my careless behavior was the result of not thinking about anyone but myself. Finally it dawned on me I could not possibly be the only person who is impacted by the results of MY behavior. That open-hearted aha moment was what it took for me to stop seeing myself as separate and alone and to start seeing myself as one part of our Earth family.

Asking “How will it feel?” is the key which opened the door to my heart. Taking time to put myself in another person’s shoes before I act allows me to be aware of how uncomfortable, frustrated, or lonely it feels to be on the receiving end of rude and thoughtless behavior. It does not feel good to be jerked up and down like a buoy. Being sprayed with or battered by the wake of another person’s unconscious behavior is not enjoyable.

Yes, your overall contentment with life is absolutely your responsibility. And, the other half of that truth is that no matter how much you take responsibility for creating your own happiness – Congratulations by the way! – what I do DOES impact your happiness factor.

You are not going to be happy no matter how much deep breathing you do if I have a cell phone conversation during the middle of your child’s play, a movie, or at a concert.  You can focus all your energy on remaining peaceful but happiness will elude you when I ignore traffic signs and make an illegal U-turn causing a traffic jam. Your calm and balance will go out the window when I behave thoughtlessly and cause a ripple effect that washes negatively over you.

The flip-sided truth to your happiness factor is that although I may live in a free country, I am not entitled to behave as I please! I am not free to do what I want without regard to the consequences of my actions. Action without accountability is not free. There are always consequences!

Our satisfaction and fulfillment in life comes from actively creating and nurturing good relationships with everyone, not just our family and friends. I learned good relationships are not possible if I speed through life carelessly behaving as if I have a special pass to do whatever I want. Today I realize caring about the effect my actions cause is what makes me feel fantastic about me. I now accept there is nothing naïve, submissive, or weak about choosing to stop rushing through life without paying attention to my actions. Real courage is slowing down to keep my heart open to care about you too. That is the responsibility I have for your happiness. Caring about the wake your behavior leaves is the responsibility you have for the happiness of others too.

Positive Skepticism

What The

Do you believe people starring in fast-food commercials actually eat fast food on a regular basis? Do you think your 50 year old wrinkles will go away and you’ll look like the 18 year old in the magazine face-cream commercial? Do you believe you’ll finally be happy when you get the big car, fancy house, cool wardrobe, and hot partner? While there is supposed to be truth in advertising guess what, advertisers lie.

Sure they do with photo shop, by hiring skinny actors who NEVER eat fast food, through deception, altered imagery, and by leading us to believe things are sexy.  How stupid do they think we are?  Pretty stupid because we’re buying their lies hook, line and sinker.

The woman who is wearing the leather mini-skirt does not come with the car you purchase. Dying your grey hair will not have young hot chicks knocking down your door. One fast-food meal packs more calories, fat, sodium, sugar, and preservatives than those commercial actors eat in a month. Those 18 year old cosmetic model photos have been doctored to the point their facial features are perfect. Not to mention the 100,000 dollar lighting system and high-paid photographers. But hey we buy the lies, never once questioning how come our butt can’t fit into our pants since we started the fast-food routine?

How come our 50 year old wrinkles don’t magically disappear? How come all those things we surround ourselves with don’t make us jump for joy 24-hours a day. People who sell us stuff will do anything to sell us stuff.  We have to be smarter and ask ourselves if it’s too good to be true then it is.  Happiness, personal satisfaction and fulfillment in life come from what we put into our hearts – pleasant memories, being helpful and kind, self-respect, family, friends, what we do to give back – not how we look, how much money we make or what size we wear.

The time has come to be honest with ourselves about the dishonesty of the consumeristic society in which we are living. We must be the ones who change this by educating ourselves so we don’t fall for the next tonic salesman who pulls into town. Think for yourself because when it comes to selling, advertisers, newscasters, and corrupt politicians all have swamp land they are eager to unload. We must be smarter than to think miracles come in the form of sexy, or fast, big and shiny things or that we can trust habitual liars to grow a conscious and tell the truth. The time has come to stop selling ourselves so short.

Your Success is the Goal

Success

What does being a success mean to you?  Have you thought about it?  I mean really considered what success means to you?  For many years I just went along with the idea of success other people imposed on me.

I went to junior college and got an associates degree. Then on to a university for my bachelor’s degree.  Then I continued my education and got a master’s degree.   Today I can honestly say I am grateful for my formal education.  On this side I know how pursuing a formal education fueled my desire to stay a well-informed person.  But a formal education alone did not ever make me feel like a success.

I had great jobs and with some of the jobs came a big corner office.  But my life was so busy with work that my relationships suffered.  I was too busy with work with no time to play or spend quality time with my partner, friends and pets.

I got the big house, fancy car and stylish wardrobe.  Even though I had a good job that paid well I spent well beyond my means.  What I wore, what I drove, where I lived became more important than being financially responsible.  I was trying to paint a picture of what I thought, what I’d been told success is.

I grew up with family, the television, advertisers telling me what it meant to be successful.  So I blindly followed the crowd.  I attempted to keep up with an unrealistic standard of what it means to be successful as defined by other people.

Honestly, would you consider someone a success who is $35,000 in credit card debt? Someone who could not afford regular health check-up, dentist examinations, or visits to the veterinary for her pets. Would you think I was successful when I could not afford to take a vacation?  Someone who lay awake at night in a panic from fear of how I was going to pay off all the debt?

Today I realize I was not a success. For many years I had been disillusioned to believe success was surrounding myself with things.  So I spent irresponsibly.  I did not stop to consider if things really brought me happiness.  I can tell you I was extremely unhappy being so much in debt to the point I lived in fear and constant stress.

Today I am debt free.  I paid all of the $35,000 back.  It was important for me to do so because the act of assuming responsibility taught me what it really means to be successful.

We live in a consumerist world that deems us successful when we attain wealth, honors, notoriety, a big house, big car, excellent education and other things that are supposed to define us. If we wear a certain size, drive a certain car, live in a certain neighborhood, etc.  But things are not who we really are.

Things do not feel. Things do not provide genuine validation of who we are.  Things do not establish us as people who are truly admired.  Things are sold to us by people who are in the business of selling things.  Advertisers will deem what is successful based on the items they sell.

The same is true of fashion and what size we are to be. Again those who are making and selling a product or look deem what it means to be successful according to their standards.  But what if we do not fit the mold or model of their standard?  Does that mean we are a failure?

Success is a term that really has no meaning until we take the time to determine what it means to us.  Regardless what anyone else thinks of success, take time to define success for yourself.  Don’t depend on advertisers, family, friends, co-workers, etc. to tall you what it means for you to be a success.  Define it for yourself.

Sit down and make a list of each area in your life in which you want to feel successful.  What are your financial goals?  What amount of retirement/savings do you want to achieve over your lifetime?  How much will you need in order to have the quality of life you desire? How much will you need to donate to the causes you support?  What about term life insurance to ensure your families financial stability should something happen to you unexpectedly?  What about long-term care should you become disabled or suffer an extended illness?  Do you have a medical directive and have you assigned power of attorney to someone you trust to handle your affairs?  Do you have a will?

What are your relationship goals?  Do you desire a partner to grow with spiritually?  Do you want someone who enjoys the same activities you do?  Do you want a partner to complement you, to support you, to respect you?  What are the values – kindness, responsibility, loyalty, open and honest communication, etc. that you want in someone?  Are these already a part of who you are today?  Do you need to work on your issues so you do not bring them into a relationship?

What are your educational/career goals?  Where would you like to be in a year, 5 years, and 10 years?

What are your health/physical goals?  Are you overweight?  Do you smoke?  What changes do you know you need to make to ensure you have a healthy body and good quality of life?

What are your parenting goals?  Or have you decided to not become a parent?  Would you prefer to adopt a child?

Creating a successful life gets easier when you take time to determine what success means to you.  Refuse to let anyone tell you that you are only a success when you have achieved their idea of success?  You will not be fulfilled working for the goals of someone else.  You will find fulfillment and self-respect when you set your own standard of success and you work to achieve the goals for yourself.

Who’s Out There Depends on What’s In You

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I was forty-eight years old before I found my right partner. It happened only after I stopped focusing on finding someone and started concentrating completely on being someone worth finding.

I am so glad to have learned how important it is for you and me to be the moral, ethical, and spiritual person we want to attract.  By knowing ourselves intimately and by being honest  with ourselves  about our strengths and weaknesses, we know what we are comfortable with in another person.

This took me many years to figure out. I grew up on fairy tales which lead me to believe I’d magically meet the perfect person of my dreams and we’d ride off into the sunset and have the perfect life.  What a load of crap.

It was after the hard breakup of my sixth in a series of not good relationships when I started to really wonder what was wrong with me.  Yes, at first I was focused on blaming others. I came from a victim, why me perspective. But after some soul searching I realized I was the common denominator.

Those six people were not bad folks.  Well one was a thief, liar, and alcoholic. But the other five were not horrible people who abused me and used me.

The truth is I did not know myself so how in the world could I share the real me with other people.  If I was not being who I really was, if I was not honest with myself about myself, then how could I know what to look for in a partner? Until that wake-up call, I’d never considered the values, spiritual beliefs, and behaviors that were important to me in relationships. And, I did not realize the importance of needing to actually live these values for myself before I could find someone else with them, too.

To have any chance of creating the fulfilling, positive relationship I wanted, I first had to determine who I was, what I wanted in a partner, and how I needed to behave in a relationship.

Who am I? Taking time to seriously think about all I was, the positive and negative, allowed me to identify areas that needed change. I was kind, loyal, generous, organized, determined, and hard-working, and I loved animals and the natural world. Then I focused on honestly listing negative beliefs or behaviors that limited me.

Being insecure, closed, cautious, and emotionally unavailable permeated my relationships. My low self-esteem disconnected me from my feelings and did not allow me to communicate clearly. Codependent, I sought validation from the outside world. Unresolved issues of abandonment and unworthiness made me fear being alone. Setting healthy boundaries out of love and respect for myself was not part of my skill set.

I rushed from relationship to relationship, yet, once in, I became distant, not wanting to be hurt or used. While projecting my pain, negative thoughts, anger, and suspicions onto others, I also looked to other people to rescue me from a confusing and painful past.

The negative list was revealing, but instead of feeling saddened by the process of candidly identifying my limiting beliefs and behaviors, I felt empowered. Having the courage to look at myself honestly generated a crucial to-do list.

After completing a personal inventory, I made a list of what I wanted in a relationship. Then I had to make certain the values and beliefs I identified were a genuine part of me. Why? Because if I was not patient I could not identify someone who was also patient. If I was not kind I would accept someone who was cruel.  If I was dishonest I would, and did, date a liar and thief. Each of these went against my core values.  But to be the real me I had to start living those values, not just telling myself I was a patient, kind and honest person.

I had to be what I wanted in another person. I wanted clear, open, and honest communication, so I focused on learning to be a good communicator. Since I desired someone who had either worked through or was actively addressing their limiting personal issues, I became devoted to healing my emotional wounds.

Desiring trust, forgiveness, and support, I became trustworthy, forgiving, and supportive. Wanting a responsible and dependable partner, I became accountable and reliable. I concentrated on growing my individuality and spirituality so I would be in the position to encourage and support the same in someone else. I wanted a respectful relationship, so I agreed to treat myself and other people with reverence.

Desiring kindness, honesty, and openness, I focused on being caring, truthful, and friendly. I wanted calm and became dedicated to maintaining a peaceful way of life. Enjoying play, I wanted someone who also consciously made time for fun. Because I desired encouragement, I learned to support others. Desiring intimacy, I became emotionally available, to myself and to other people. Longing to share my dreams, concerns, and wants, I readily became a person who holds the aspirations, apprehension, and desires of others safely within my heart.

When I took time to identify what makes up a good partnership, I also realized the important role compatibility plays in finding a suitable companion. Knowing I wanted to be in a monogamous relationship allowed me to exclude those who practice infidelity. My love of animals caused me to question the reality of having a good relationship with someone who disliked my furry friends. Valuing promptness and neatness, I stopped myself from getting involved with someone who was continuously late or who did not value personal hygiene and tidiness. Placing great importance on spirituality, I desired someone who would support, encourage, and be patient with my heart-growth.

One of our principal reasons for being alive is to learn to live with principles. Through the personal planning process, I realized to have the best life we need to bring the best of ourselves to life. To be our best, it is necessary to assess our strengths and weaknesses.

Take time to determine which values (such as honesty, loyalty, compassion, promptness, respect, cooperation, patience, think of as many as you can) are currently among your advantages, or, if absent, your disadvantages. This is an opportunity to be completely honest and open with yourself.

After determining your values, strengths, and limitations, spend time determining your objectives in a relationship. What is important to you in terms of finances, monogamy, pets, having children and how to raise them, spirituality, savings, accumulation of things vs. memories, etc.  The goal is not to make someone over into who you want them to be.  The goal is to find someone who shares your values.  They put the toilet seat down because they are courteous.  They pick up their clothes because they are neat.  They share their thoughts and feelings with you because they value the intimacy that comes from clear and honest communication.

Your relationships will not be successful if you try to mold someone into the person you want them to be. Look for someone who already holds the basic values you hold dear.  Then you will be able to weather any relationship storm because respect and clear communication is the foundation upon which you have come together to create a better life together than you would have on your own. Who’s out there for you depends on what’s already within you.

Healthy Competition: Good for Your Soul

For Comparison Video

Recently I was looking through a fashion magazine. Something I rarely do. I flipped through the pages looking at the thin models with seemingly perfect skin.  For a brief moment I thought how wonderful it would be to be young again with a perfect body, skin, hair, nails, teeth and gorgeous looks.  Then I woke up and realized what I was doing.  What in the world are you thinking, I sort of half-screamed to myself, in side my head of course.  Old patterns die hard don’t they?

Do you compare yourself to or compete with others? What a joke it is to even entertain the notion we should be like another person.  We were born to be unique. Like a finger print and snowflake you and I were designed to be an individual unlike any other human being on earth.  At no time in the past or future will there be another Regina.  At no time in the past or future will there be another you.  So what in the world are you and I doing when we buy into the lie we should be like other people, should look a certain way, wear a certain size, marry a certain person, make a certain amount of money, and the list goes on.

Looking at those rail thin models in that fashion magazine, comparing myself to them, felt bad.  I felt less than some ideal height, weight, and look.  I felt unattractive and that lead me to feel unworthy.  Comparing myself to anyone always left me feeling negative. Even when I compared by thinking I was better, more attractive, smarter competition left me feeling bad.  Maybe I was smarter than another person but that did not make me better. I just had different abilities.

One of the most empowering actions I can take is to refusing to compare myself  to or compete with others in the unhealthy ways that result in disappointment and feelings of being less than. Today I work hard to only compare and compete with myself in a healthy way; to be a better person today than I was yesterday. I am focused on supporting others in being their unique selves and to achieve their individual goals, just like I want to be supported in achieving my goals and to be accepted for who I am.

I encourage you to refuse to compete with anyone on looks.  You and I are beautiful as we were born to be.  We can take care of our looks through rest, diet and exercise.  We can take good care of our skin through vitamins, moisturizers, sunscreen, and not eating sugar and processed foods. We are intended to look our best as we were born to be.  Compete with ourselves to take good care of ourselves to honor our individual looks.

Refuse to compete with anyone on weight.  The goal is to feel good in your body.  The goal is to be healthy.  You and I are not meant to be the same size.  We are meant to respect and honor our bodies through eating healthy, exercising, not using food as an excuse to stuff our emotions or pain or to satisfy boredom.  We are to compete with ourselves to find the healthy weight for us, to maintain that weight, and to do whatever it takes to keep our body in optimum condition.

Refuse to complete with anyone on money.  Set your financial goals based on what you deem successful.  Some of the richest people I know are the poorest as far as values and happiness.  Some of the financially poorest people I know are the richest in terms of satisfaction, generosity, and joy.  Compete with yourself to be financially responsible by refusing to surround yourself with stuff just because other people have done so.

Refuse to compete with anyone on anything.   You are distinctive among all other human beings. That means you have been specifically designed to be yourself.

If there are things about yourself you want to change, you certainly can.  First make a list of what you want to change. Second choose one item from the list. Third make the decision to do whatever it takes to accomplish your goal. Fourth don’t give up and REFUSE to compare yourself or compete with anyone – even if you have a friend who is doing the same thing – like losing weight or quitting smoking.  You are an individual.  Your body, metabolism, addiction level is different than your friends.  Don’t go down the she is losing faster, stopping faster, etc.  road.  Take that same energy and support one another so you both accomplish your goals. But refuse to compete with one another.  Compete with yourself and support her.

Healthy competition is good for your soul.  Healthy competition is that which you do with yourself.  Let the competition begin so you create the magnificent you, that you want to be.

Love Let’s the Little Things Slide

no drama

About five years ago, I had a carpenter fix the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. A hinge was stuck with layers of old paint, so it would not close. Neither Barbara and I couldn’t close it no matter how hard we tried. It had been broken for so long we got used to not closing the cabinet door.

That door’s been fixed for years now, but almost every morning I go into the bathroom to find the medicine cabinet door ajar. No matter how many times I remind her the door is now fixed, Barbara does not close it with any regularity. What’s a little, easy thing to me must be a monumental task to her. Who knows why, after all this time, she still leaves the door open? I haven’t a clue. The times I have reminded her, she seems shocked. I’m actually the one in shock that after all this time she still leaves it partly ajar. But hey, what can you do?

“I love you” means letting the little things in your relationships slide – you know, the minor things the people you love do that irritate you. It is perplexing to me why someone would leave a fixed cabinet door open. But in the end, who really cares. I’ve given up, and if I want it shut I close it myself. My partner is not perfect, but to be completely frank, I’m not either.

It drives her nuts I don’t squash the almond milk container flat, to the thickness of a microscope slide cover, before placing it neatly into the paper recycling bin. The vast majority of time, I stomp on it once, screw the cap back on, and throw it in. Later I hear her in the kitchen rustling loudly around in the recycling, muttering something indistinguishable but definitely irritated about my less-than-perfect squashing abilities.

Yes, of course, she’s asked me about 16,000 times over the past 11 years to neatly place stuff in the bin. I listen, intent on doing my best to follow through. The next time, I actually step up to the plate and hit a home run. The container and its placement in the bin have passed inspection. Then boom, I’m squashing the next empty container and the phone rings. I hurriedly stomp and toss, and in one beautiful, ballet-like movement, I hit the basket and score. Later she arrives with the partially squashed container in hand, hoping her show-and-tell will finally be effective and I will consistently meet her stomp standards.

I assure her the folks at the recycling center aren’t interested in how flat the almond milk container is. I bet they don’t sit around saying, “Hey Mikey, come over and take a look at this. Can you believe someone left this like this? Wow, what is the world coming to when you don’t even care to squash an almond milk container as flat as it can be before sending it to us?”

It is one of those things that is important to her. Everything must fit neatly into the sack. Maybe she thinks Mikey will find out where she lives and think less of her because her paper recyclables are not perfectly placed. I’ve told her when Mikey shows up on our doorstep to tell him it is all my fault. She does not even crack a smile.

Hey, I will be the first to tell you my partner is NOT perfect. I have a list of 101 ways she does not meet my standards, from not shutting the fixed cabinet door, to her unbelievably high standards of flatness for recycling containers, to actually slowing down when I ask her to hurry.

Don’t you just hate it when someone intentionally moves more slowly when you’ve asked them to speed up? She adamantly swears she does not move more slowly, but one time I set up a time-lapse camera and BAM, there was the evidence. “Please hurry up” sends her into slow-motion mode. What’s up with that? And, please do not EVER, and I mean EVER, allow her into your kitchen.

She is not meant to cook or cut bagels. Her brother and I can’t look when she cuts a bagel with a huge butcher knife while balancing it precariously on its side in the palm of her hand. Or the time she took a Samurai sword–length knife to cut a slick watermelon that kept rolling around in the sink. Or the time she steamed broccoli without putting water in the pot. My partner in the kitchen is like one of Dan Aykroyd’s bad Julia Child Saturday Night Live skits. You’re just waiting for the blood to start spurting out all over the place. You know what, she ate the broccoli she steamed without water. Super UCK!

My partner is not perfect, and every day is another opportunity to let something else slide. You see, I love her, and that means I accept her imperfections because, shock of all shocks, I am not perfect either. I know it is surprising, but I happen to know for a fact if she shared her list with you, it would have at least 2,002 things on it she does differently, and of course better, than I do. There are things I do that make no sense to her. Like insisting on arriving to each and every event much earlier than necessary. It’s just one of those things I do. I’ll even beat everyone to my own funeral.

I cannot say I’ve vastly improved on squashing the almond milk containers. The last time she did her show-and-tell, I did come closer to her standard though. Mikey still has not shown up, but the threat looms large, and I am reminded he may knock on the door at any moment.

No matter what we do, no matter how many times we ask, there are minor things about those we love we just have to let go of. Maybe they are working on changing other, more important things about themselves. The minor irritations are not worth wasting our precious energy on. After the 16,000 or 17,000 time of asking, having our show-and-tells, calling Mikey to come over and address the problem directly, we just have to let them slide.

Love lets the little irritations slide. If they do not cause harm, then those small things really are only minor inconveniences. “I love you” always keeps in mind our partners are not perfect, but then again, neither are we.

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.