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Nella Coiro

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“There is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”

As I re-read Amanda Gorman’s eloquent and powerful inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” many thoughts crossed my mind. My first thought as a fellow poet was “Wow! What an incredibly gifted writer!” Second, I was impressed that a twenty-two year old woman had so much insight beyond her years. I certainly didn’t have her level of insight when I was in my 20’s. I also realized that although her poem were focused upon the country, her words could easily be applied to individual adversity, learning and growth. 

In this blog, I want to explore some excerpts that were particularly poignant, and led me toward further self-reflection. Let’s take a closer look: 

“When day comes, we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never ending shade? The loss we carry. The sea we must wade. We braved the belly of the beast. And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it.”

If you have ever felt depressed, hopeless, overwhelmed, or have experienced adversity, tragedy or loss, you too might have searched for a glimmer of light within the darkness of your challenging circumstances. Yet somehow, hopefully, you were able to exit the darkness, and, as Gorman asserts, “braved the belly of the beast.” We are usually stronger and more courageous than we realize.

I don’t think that anyone would disagree with the fact that human beings are “far from polished” and “far from pristine.” Yet most of us try our best to walk through our obstacles, focused on resilience, and realize that “even as we grieved, we grew… even as we hurt, we hoped…even as we tired, we tried.” 

The poet goes on to talk about a nation that “isn’t broken”, but “simply unfinished.” Since a  nation is actually a collection of individuals, let’s talk about people. Can we really be “broken,”or, as she suggests, are we simply “unfinished?” I contend the latter. Although life can sometimes leave us feeling “bruised and battered,” I don’t believe that we can ever be “broken.” Rather, most of us endure, we try to learn from our mistakes, and strive toward being better people, and less “unfinished.” And it’s a lifelong journey.

I contemplated the following verse in further depth, because it also relates to vengeance versus forgiveness and letting go: “Victory won’t lie in the blade, but in all the bridges we’ve made.” Violence and the desire for revenge has never brought about “victory.” Even if someone has hurt us, retaliation will not truly soothe our pain, because this will not erase the offense. Further, this behavior will only make us a perpetrator, like the person who harmed us. 

Sadly, some in our society (too many), no longer see “agreeing to disagree“ as a viable option. Rather, disagreement has abruptly caused relationships to end, and ignited the flames of anger, hate, and violence. This must stop! Until we can “lay down our arms,” and embrace tolerance, even in the face of disagreements, then, as a society, we’re doomed to fail. This mentality is simply unsustainable.

Concerning our historical inheritance, Gorman asserts: “It’s the past we step into, and how to repair it.” Regardless of our past, we are not doomed to repeat it, and we have the ability and the choice to move beyond it. We can repair and change the future by what we choose to do today. 

Further, we can emerge stronger. We can enjoy life. We can laugh. We can recover. We can choose not to look back on the horrors of yesterday, and instead, look forward to the hope of tomorrow and of better days. Although life can wear us down, frighten us, and sometimes catch us off guard, ultimately we’ve got this! 

“For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it. If only we are brave enough to be it.”        

 

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Goodbye 2020

Now that we’re approaching the end of 2020, saying that it’s been an overwhelming year would definitely be an understatement. When we wished one another a happy new year on January 1st of 2020, no one could have a fathomed the horror that this year would bring upon us. So, I guess the term happy new year it simply a wish that we’re hoping for the best, and we certainly don’t want to think about the worst.

We all celebrate the end of the year and the coming of the new year, with a sense of anticipated hope for better things to come, and this will be especially true of this year. Yet, millions have lost a loved one, and were not allowed to hold their hand during their final moments. These heartbreaking memories and this level of grief doesn’t fade with the passing of time. Instead, this changes us, and remains with us.

Anger, anxiety and fear don’t easily fade into the sunset either. Even the good news concerning vaccines isn’t a soothing balm and a solution for the intense suffering and the new normals. Now, we have a new mindset, because we’ve become acutely aware that there are deadly threats that are invisible, and we can’t see them coming. Even enlightenment can have components that are distressing and painful.

There’s so much happening in our world simultaneously – and much of it is about facing the reality that we have absolutely no control over the external circumstances that can greatly impact upon our lives. This enhanced reality will follow us beyond 2020, and into the years to come. 

There are also social ramifications. The pandemic has drastically changed how we will interact with one another in the future. No one will feel comfortable with handshaking ever again. Hugs will be accompanied by anxiety for a long time. Since I’m immune compromised, I cannot imagine ever feeling comfortable when standing close to a stranger, or without the protection of a mask.

We’ve become so aware of the fact that even those we love can unknowingly transmit invisible and deadly germs. How will this translate at family gatherings when we might be expected to hug or kiss friends or relatives? 

How will we greet one another in social situations now? Elbow bumps? Personally, I’ve always preferred the Indian namaste greeting, but social greeting changes are going to be awkward for western society. People don’t like change. Just look at all the people who are still refusing to wear masks, even if it kills them. And it just might do that.

Then, what can we take away from 2020 as learning lessons?  Here are a few ideas…

  • Live each moment with a sense of gusto, because it is precious and tenuous, and can quickly fade within a heartbeat.
  •  Stop worrying and rehearsing for a possible disaster that never happens. Often, whatever we’re worrying about usually doesn’t come to fruition, and at the same time, we can get blindsided by something we never even anticipated.
  • We need to learn tolerance and mutual respect, even if we don’t see eye to eye on particular situations. What ever happened to respectfully agreeing to disagree? Many people have ended relationships this year because of political differences. Was it worth it?
  • There were those who refused to wear a mask to protect both themselves and those around them, turning a public health issue into a political issue. We need to be less selfish and gullible, and more caring of those around us.
  • Last, but certainly not least, we need to say “I love you“ to those that we care about.

 

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“Am I my brother’s keeper?”

The term “Am I my brothers keeper?“ originally came from the Bible (although all religions and spiritual traditions share this philosophy.) As the story goes, when Cain killed his brother Abel, God asked Cain where Abel was, and he defensively responded, “How should I know. Am I my brothers keeper?” In other words, was he responsible for his brother? Cain hated and was envious of his brother, killed him in cold blood, and he was annoyed by the question. 

Over the years, the meaning of these words has taken on a different meaning. When I was younger, this phrase meant that, in the spirit of brotherhood, we should have an attitude of caring about and helping each other. There was a time, not very long ago, when people looked out for and empathized with each other, and were more respectful of one another. A lot has changed since then.

This led me to think about what this sentiment means in our society today.

Although we still have heroic first responders and health care professionals who will risk their lives to help or save other people, they are a small fraction of society. In general, however, our society has become more selfish and self-absorbed. More and more people have a me-first attitude, and many people care less about each other than they used to. It’s also alarming to note that increasing numbers of people lack empathy. 

Here are some examples:

Let’s begin by looking at the battle of wearing masks. Years ago, this battle wouldn’t exist. People wouldn’t even think of putting someone else in danger if asked to take a simple preventive measure. They didn’t have this me-first and I don’t care about you attitude. In the middle of pandemic where close to 300,000 people have died, there are people who refuse to wear a mask, not only to protect themselves, but to protect those around them. Why? (Needless to say, there are political reasons, but I try to avoid discussing politics in my blogs.)

Let’s talk about the holidays. I understand that people want to be with their extended families during the holidays. But, aren’t they putting their selfish desire to be with certain family members ahead of that person’s health? How is going against CDC guidelines doing the loving thing? Experts have told us that the biggest spread of the coronavirus happens during small residential gatherings where there are people from different households sitting around a table, without social distancing, and people are not wearing masks. In fact, after Halloween, as a result of people having small Halloween parties, there was a surge in cases.

And so, I just don’t get it.

While we’re on this topic, have you noticed that all of the television commercials are encouraging people to holiday shop? For example, the Fed-Ex commercial with the song “I’ll be home for the Christmas“, and the Post Office and Amazon commercials where they are delivering packages, and all of the retail outlet advertisements that encourage shopping for Christmas presents? Are they living in an alternative reality? It’s sad enough that people have been encouraged, for health safety issues, not to be around extended family members during the holidays. This doesn’t help.

Has the rigidity of tradition blinded people to doing the loving and sometimes difficult thing, even if it requires sacrifice?

So, how did we get here and does that matter? The more important questions are: How do we change? How do we get back to the attitude of caring about one another in a selfless loving way, even when it might be at our own expense?

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Musings on Challenges, Pain and Struggles

I haven’t written a blog for a few weeks because I was struggling with the sadness and grief of losing my sweet basset hound, Penelope, in addition to the ongoing stress of being on dialysis, and the work involved with going to evaluations hoping to be included on kidney recipient transplant lists in different states. So, there’s a lot is going on in my life. 

Today I was at an evaluation, and there were a few other people there to be evaluated as well. I was struck and saddened that one of the patients was a young woman, possibly in her early 20’s. She looked so afraid, and my heart really went out to her — so young, and she needed a kidney transplant. Since transplants usually only last a certain number of years, this young woman will possibly need a few transplants throughout her life. That’s so sad, and her life will surely be challenging.

Sometimes it’s important to remember that we’re not alone regarding challenges and struggles. As I mentioned in my book, The Forgiveness Journey, we all have a story. 

Of course, we’re going to feel that our pain is the worst, because we’re experiencing it. But it helps to look around us. Our physical world is filled with challenges, pain and struggle. On the plus side, we usually have more strength and resilience than we realize.

Unless you’ve come face-to-face with a serious illness or a life threatening situation, it’s hard to explain the barrage of feelings and the ongoing, underlying fear and stress. You bounce around through the grief process, and you learn the deepest meaning of the word powerless

Eventually, however, you somehow come to terms with your circumstances, even though you might still have moments where you feel depressed, frustrated, or engage in the self defeating mind game of “what-if’s” or “if only’s.” Personally, although I have my moments, my “why me’s” and times of tears, I’m still here, and somehow, I’m able to keep moving forward. Even in dark moments, after contemplation, ultimately, I concluded that giving up was just not an option.  

I think that everything in life can be seen as a learning lesson. In the midst of serious challenges and times of pain or grief, perhaps we can capture a glimpse of the preciousness of each moment. We might realize how many moments we have wasted, or about the stupid things that we worried about that might have seemed monumental at the time, but now seem trivial, in the broader scope of things.

It’s interesting to note how our priorities can change in a heartbeat. We could be so upset by a particular situation, and unexpectedly, something more tragic happens. Then suddenly the situation that was so devastating now seems unimportant. This raises the question, was it really as important as we thought? It’s all about perspective …

These pivotal, challenging and upsetting moments will change us. They have to! If our lives are always fine and dandy, we really have no reason to change or grow. But when the shit hits the fan… then I believe that change is inevitable. These are the moments when we find and draw upon our inner strength and courage.

For example, I have always been somewhat of a procrastinator. However, when I learned about the seriousness of my illness, I stop procrastinating, and completed the projects that I have put off for years. I became acutely aware that I wasn’t immortal, and it was time to follow my heart. If I wasn’t in this situation, I’m not sure that my motivation wouldn’t have rose to the level that it did. And so, as the old cliche’ goes, “each cloud has a silver lining.”

So, where am I going with this? To summarize: 

  1. Shit happens to everyone, and it’s unavoidable and inevitable. 
  2. Often, when shit happens, it can be motivating and enlightening. 
  3. Challenges, struggles and pain can prompt us and ignite personal growth and change. 

(As always, I welcome and appreciate your comments and emails.)

 

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The Pain of Losses

As you know, I write my blogs and my books based upon my own experiences, in the hope that it might help someone else. This week I want to talk about loss. As many of you know,  I don’t have children, and I treat and look upon my animal companions as my children. (If you are someone who has the philosophy “It’s just a dog”, then you might not want to read the rest of this blog, and that’s okay.) 

A week ago today, on 9/10, I lost Penelope, my basset hound of 11 years, and so I am completely heartbroken. Although I believe that her spirit lives on, and we will reunite in the afterlife, this doesn’t ease the pain of her physical loss. Today we picked up her urn with her ashes, and her collar, and I cannot put into words how upsetting this was. We were particularly upset by seeing her collar. Every morning we heard her collar jingle as she came into the bedroom to wake us up and greet us. It symbolizes so much. The mutual love — the mutual joy of waking up and greeting each other.

Since it’s been a few years since I lost my other basset hound, I forgot the intensity of this pain. It’s a pain that feels like someone has ripped my heart into shreds. To me, there isn’t a difference between losing my hound or losing a human being. And since I’ve been running a group for several years for those grieving the loss of their animal companions, I know that many share these feelings. Since her loss was sudden, shocking and unexpected, this made it even more upsetting. I miss her so much.

And so, I would like to share some insights. For myself, this loss was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” In the past few weeks, I was sick, needed to test for COVID-19, and thank God I was negative. Since the test results took time, I was shipped off to another dialysis center which was an hour away, because I needed two negatives before I could return to my dialysis center. Then I developed a blood clot in my hemodialysis graft and needed an emergency procedure. Let’s just say that shit relentlessly kept happening in my life non-stop.

Besides this, I’m trying to get on transplant lists and I’m told that the waiting list is 5-8 years long. Therefore, theoretically, I might spend the next 5-8 years going to dialysis three times a week, three hours each treatment… this has become my life. Right now I feel that I’ve run out of strength and resilience, and it has become hard to pray because I feel that my prayers aren’t being heard. (I am hoping that this will change with time.) So, as much as I’d like to think of myself as a badass warrior, I am forced to face the fact that I’m a vulnerable human being.

What is the lesson here? What is the struggle about? I think that it’s all about dealing with loss… loss of someone I deeply loved… loss of strength... loss of stamina… loss of resilience… loss of faith and spirituality… loss of autonomy… loss of health… loss of independence... loss of control... loss of the illusion of power.

Maybe you’ve been there yourself, or perhaps you can identify with some of these feelings. If you have, I feel your pain.

Let’s begin with the lose of a loved one… Whenever we make ourselves vulnerable and allow ourselves to love either an animal or another person, we are at risk to eventually feel the pain of loss. The greater the love, the deeper the pain of the loss. Since animals love us unconditionally, we share a special bond and a unique type of love with them.

And yet, I wouldn’t change a thing, because I enjoyed the 11 years I’ve shared with her, loved her, took care of her, and gave her a good and happy life. And, she taught me so many lessons and helped to mold me in significant ways. The pain I’m feeling right now because of her physical loss doesn’t negate the eleven years that we shared, nor does it negate the importance of her life.

The Buddhists talk about impermanence, and that it is our obsession with attachment that always gets us into trouble. We go through life clinging to one thing or one person after another, hoping to find happiness. Love and it’s intensity complicates this even further. Then we get frustrated when the world doesn't behave according to our needs and wants. We suffer because we can’t accept that everything is impermanent, including relationships and life itself. Nothing will last forever. Most of us live in denial and we’re too afraid to face this truth about loss.

This loss of Penelope, my fur-child was devastating, and caused me to think about, and triggered the pain of other losses, and, as mentioned above, I’ve had quite a few, especially in this last year. As I contemplated, I was able to see that there are some similarities between all losses. 

First and foremost, it’s frustrating and terrifying to realize how incredibly powerless we are, especially concerning health, life and death. This has to be one of the worst feelings in the world. Second, we struggle with letting go, especially if we love someone. Third, we become angry with the God of our understanding because we feel we aren’t being heard, or God isn’t doing it our way. Fourth, we see a loved one suffer and can’t do a damned thing about it. (I find it interesting that I can deal with my own illnesses much better than dealing with the illnesses of those I love.)

Unfortunately, we only grow and learn through struggles, challenges and pain. I was speaking to a dear friend of mine the other day, and she said something to me that was eloquent and insightful, so I would like to share it: “This is what life is about – learning lessons. You have some big bumps in the road right now. You can either let it break you or let it change your thought process... It might feel slow, or walls are up around you, but you are changing. Just keep that perspective.”

I want to end this blog with my friend’s words.

 

Penelope, My Baby Girl - 9/24/09-9/10/20

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Forgiving & Releasing Toxic Family Members

(This blog is an excerpt from one of the chapters in my upcoming book.)

 

“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Maya Angelou

 

Sometimes the greatest chunks of adversity can be found in our backyard. Toxic family members can cause us a great deal of distress, and detoxing from the damage can be challenging, a source of adversity, and a difficult battle to conquer. Moreover, like a virus, toxic people infect and harm everyone around them.

We can’t fix toxic family members or our dysfunctional dynamics. However, we can detox the part of us that is attracted to these toxic people — the part of us that thinks they’re going to change —the part of us that struggles to face reality. And yet, it’s hard to detach from people who are a part of our family. It’s hard to walk away and leave them and our shared history behind us. It’s hard to face the reality that they add nothing to our lives, and are as toxic and dangerous as drinking lethal poison. 

At one point, when the pain of remaining in the relationship becomes overwhelming, your higher-self and your heart will tell you that you’re wasting your time, and losing pieces of your self-respect, and it is time to say goodbye emotionally and physically. The physical part is easy. The emotional part, especially forgiveness, will take some time and work.

Toxic people lie to you, disrespect you, use you, and demean you. The question is this: 

What is creating the struggle and the inner conflict that might be stopping you from permanently breaking ties with this toxic person?

  1. My delusional thinking and denial contributed to my own struggle.
  2. I ignored the fact that we had a dysfunctional history and family roles.
  3. I thought that if I could limit our contact and put some distance between us, then this might alleviate some of the stress inherent in our toxic relationship.
  4. I wanted to have a relationship with the sister that I fantasized about, and not the real person that she actually was. 
  5. I was overly focused upon the importance of our shared history.
  6. I didn’t want to face reality of the situation.
  7. For the sake of peace, I ignored her insults, innuendo and ongoing disrespect.

Perhaps you can identify with some of my reasons to help you understand why might be immobilized and still struggling with a toxic relationship.

A few weeks after I began dialysis, right after my first book was published, my sister severed ties with me by ignoring my phone calls and refusing to communicate with me directly. Instead, she hid behind her surrogates, who threatened and attacked me. She negated and ignored the fact that I’ve spent countless hours being supportive of her day and night. This toxic situation helped me to see that it would be unhealthy to consider ever having a relationship with her again, because her toxicity was infecting my life.

Many people wrongly assume that forgiving someone requires forgetting the offense that the person committed against us. This isn’t true. First, asking someone to forget the hurt that they have experienced is denying the seriousness of the offense. Can you imagine telling a Holocaust survivor who saw her child being taken to the crematorium, “You need to forget about that memory and get on with your life.” Anyone would find that advice outrageous! 

Asking someone to forget the pain of the offense is unreasonable and unrealistic. Keep in mind that you can still forgive, yet retain the memory of the offense and it’s associated pain. For example, just because I forgave my parents and especially my sister, this didn’t mean that I forgot the pain that they inflicted upon me. That would be impossible and unhealthy.

Memories are embedded in the brain though chemical and electronic impulses. Although we cannot always recall certain experiences consciously (like where we put our keys or our eyeglasses), those memories are still in our brain and could resurface at any time. This is especially true in the form of flashbacks when we have experienced traumatizing situations. It’s impossible to perform a “memory wipe” of our brains. We can’t hit a delete key and erase uncomfortable memories. I wish that we could.

Why forgive?
Forgiveness is something we do for us, and it has nothing to do with the offender, nor does it include reconciliation or any contact with the perpetrator. Therefore, we can also forgive people who are deceased. My parents have been deceased for decades, but I was still able to forgive them. If we choose not to forgive, then we are giving that individual power over us. Essentially, we are allowing them to “own“ us. We are letting them own our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, and our lives. Through forgiveness, we are detaching the dysfunctional chain that connects us to one another.

Forgiveness also does not always require reconciliation. There are some situations where it isn’t healthy to resume a relationship, especially if the offender is toxic. I know that I can’t have a relationship with my sister because she is way too toxic, but I am still working toward forgiving  her. It isn’t easy, and might take quite a while, but I want to forgive her for me. Although unfortunate, right now, I cannot have her in my life in her current toxic state. I wish her no harm, and I truly hope that some day she will get the help that she needs to heal from her own unresolved issues.

In my book, The Forgiveness Journey and the companion workbook, I empathize that forgiveness is an internal process that involves working through the hurt, grieving your losses, and letting go of the grudge. We choose to forgive, even though it can be difficult, for our own healing and peace of mind. Moreover, the offender is not a part of this process. Trust me, it takes time and work, and is more challenging when it involves family members.

Toxic Dynamics 

The dynamics are complicated when we’re dealing with family members, especially if we share a dysfunctional childhood history, and we have grown and healed, while they have done neither. Then their jealousy can add more toxicity into the mix. 

Further, if you are their designated scapegoat, they will blame you for all of their misery and unhappiness. This is a ruse. You need to know that their issues and discontent have nothing to do with you. Their life experiences, and their choices, have led them to where they are today.

Consider these signs:

  1. The relationship is abusive. Abuse has many forms, including mental, physical, verbal and emotional. The silent treatment and sending the others to attack you are also forms of abuse.
  2. Your sibling  gives you anxiety. If you were living with ongoing anxiety because you sibling is unpredictable, vindictive, histrionic, melodramatic, or narcissistic, then this is the time to exit the relationship.
  3. Your sibling is too crazy to reason with. It’s time to exit when crazy, no-win games dominate the relationship. These include the silent treatment, gossip, sending “flying monkeys “ to fight their battles, blame-games, and creating excuses and drama. 

In releasing toxic family members, here is some points to consider:

  1. You owe the toxic individual nothing.
  2. They do not have a right to abuse you simply because they are a family member. 
  3. You have a right to walk up way from the relationship without feeling guilty.
  4. You have a right to be treated with respect.
  5. You have a responsibility to take care of yourself and exit toxic situations.

Toxic families often revel in negativity, are often judgmental, and unapologetic, and they believe that they have a right to dictate how other people should live their lives. (Even though they don’t follow the same rules themselves.) They are not interested in repairing relationships, because they are more invested in the euphoria that they receive from creating drama and chaos. And this is why one must exit the relationship to avoid being trapped in their vortex of trauma drama.

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Frozen in Time

I was listening to the radio today, and I heard an old song from the 1960’s. The song was entitled Eve of Destruction by Barry McGuire. These are the lyrics:

“The eastern world, it is exploding,
Violence flaring, bullets loading.
You're old enough to kill but not for voting.
You don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're toting.
And even the Jordan river has bodies floating,
But you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say?
And can't you feel the fears I'm feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there's no running away,
There'll be no one to save with the world in a grave,
Take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy,
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood’s so mad, feels like coagulating,
I'm sitting here, just contemplating.
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation,
Handful of Senators don't pass legislation,
And marches alone can't bring integration,
When human respect is disintegrating,
This whole crazy world is just too frustrating,
And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,
Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China!
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!
Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,
But when your return, it's the same old place,
The pounding of the drums, the pride and disgrace,
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace,
Hate your next door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
You don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.”

No, no, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Except for the line, “You're old enough to kill but not for voting,” nothing has changed since this song was written in 1964. That’s 56 years ago! The voting age has changed from 21 to 18, but that’s it?  WTH?! Do you find this upsetting too? If someone read the lyrics to the song without knowing when it was written, one could easily think that it was written yesterday, because so many things still apply to our world right now!  

How sad is this? Over half a century has passed, and yet we still have:

  • War
  • Hate 
  • Hypocrisy 
  • Racism & Misogyny
  • Senators and other politicians who don’t give a hoot.
  • A lack of mutual human respect.

If you look at the title from a broad lens,  the concept, “eve of destruction“ is not a singular event. It is more of a lingering downhill struggle. We, as a society, are self-imploding and yet we’re clueless.

It’s a bit ironic that we’ve made incredible advances in technology, science, and medicine, but have failed as a society in other important areas. Perhaps we need to take our focus away from our cell phones and iPads, stop taking selfie’s (which, by the way, no one cares about), stop living vicariously through social media, stop wasting hours a day playing Call of Duty and other video games — and wake up and look around!

Have you noticed that technology has become such a distraction that artistic expression, especially in music, has come to an indefinite pause? What great songs have been written lately that will still be listened to decades from now? 

The problem is that the digital technology, especially the internet, is so addictive. According to an October 2016 Newsweek article, Andrew Doan, M.D., a recognized expert in technology and video-game addiction, calls video games and screen technologies “digital drugs.” Doan asserts that they raise levels of dopamine— the euphoria neurotransmitter that is linked to addiction. Research shows that long amounts of time focused on a screen can affect the brain’s frontal cortex the same way that cocaine does.

Since people use this technology as the primary means of communication, social skills are also compromised. Telephone conversation or face-to-face communication is quickly becoming a lost art, and actually causes anxiety, especially in kids. Most methods of communication are handled through texting, which is vulnerable to misinterpretation. As I’ve mentioned in other blogs, people become brave when they can hide behind a computer or a cell phone. They will text words that they would never dare to say on the telephone or in person. 

What will this society be like in 20-30 years? Maybe you won’t be around to see it, but your children and grandchildren will! And, if you believe in reincarnation, you’ll be back! Think about that! 

The solution isn’t easy, but it can be accomplished by practicing balance — utilizing some of the old time-tested methods, and emotionally detoxing from technology obsession.

Author Edward Everett Hale said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” 

We can detach ourselves from the fate of remaining “frozen in time.” The world is changed one person at a time. Are you willing to be that person?

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Is Agreeing-to-Disagree a lost Art?

Agreeing to disagree means respecting that someone might have a different opinion than yours, and neither of you will change the other person’s opinion. Arguing is both disrespectful and a waste of time and energy. The best way to handle this situation is to change the topic.

There certain topics that are based on emotions rather than logic, and often opinion differences don’t mean that one person is right and the other person is wrong. Rather, they have different perspectives concerning the same situation.

There’s an old cliché that warns us to avoid discussions and debates concerning politics and religion, because these are highly emotionally charged topics. I think that this is also true today.

Agreeing to disagree doesn’t denote submission or consent. It simply means that you recognize that the other individual has a different opinion on this topic, you respect their right to a different opinion, and you choose not to argue about it.

If people are mature, then having a difference of opinion shouldn’t lead to hostility and anger. People need to be sophisticated enough to understand that others are entitled to have a different perspective, even if their perspective is different from yours. 

It’s nearly impossible for two people to agree on every issue, and only the most rigid and ignorant people will terminate a relationship because of this. In situations where we feel particularly passionate about a topic, it’s best to avoid a conversation if we know that the other person has a different opinion.

It seems that the internet and social media platforms have made it easier for people to argue, engage in verbal abuse, and avoid the agree-to-disagree philosophy. It’s very easy to hide behind a computer and attack or threaten someone who disagrees with you. It’s another thing to hear that person’s voice on the phone, or sit face to face with them.

People are very brave and will say things while hiding behind a computer, that they would never have the courage to say in a more personal setting that includes telephone or in-person communication.

We need to be cognizant of how we’re being heard when we’re using a computer or private messaging, because misinterpretations and escalation can run rampant.          

Again, regardless of how we choose to communicate, agreeing to disagree is about mutual respect.

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Can We Counteract the Narcissism Epidemic?

I remember a time, not very long ago, when people actually cared about each other, and expected absolutely nothing in return. There was an atmosphere of camaraderie and compassion. People would hold the door open for the next person. They knew the words please and thank you. They were respectful. Neighbors actually looked out for each other. 

So what happened? I think that it was a combination of factors: the internet, social media, selfies, dysfunctional tv shows, and violent movies and video games. And so, we now live in a society that have moved from being community-centered to narcissistic and self-centered. An act of kindness often has strings attached. If someone is doing something to help you, it is because they believe it is benefiting them in some way.  If you are no longer of use to someone, they just got you like yesterday’s garbage.  

The human race is moving toward a sad place indeed.  

Social media is one of biggest contributing factors. People crave and have become addicted to getting attention from people they don’t even know. The “me,me,me” and “all about me” philosophy has flourished. People will spent hours taking selfie‘s of themselves, and then touching up and modifying these photos to hide any perceived imperfections, and they truly believe that other people really care about how they look in these photos. And yet, nobody thinks that this is unreasonable and, well… insane? This obsession with self importance has gone haywire.

And this narcissism extends beyond each individual and contaminates others in our society. I believe this mentality is the major reason why the United States has more COVID-19 cases than any other country on the planet. A simple thing like wearing a mask to protect other people is considered by some to be unacceptable and a unreasonable. Why? To be blunt, they simply don’t give a shit. 

They also know that since the mask is not an N 95 mask, and it will not protect them from catching something from you. It will protect you. Again, this mentality of “what’s in it for them“ seeps in. There are other reasons why this ignorant thinking prevails, but selfishness is a major contributing factor. And yet, if you ask the mask rebels if they would be okay if their doctors refused to wear as mask when examining them, they become miffed and cannot offer a logical explanation.

This societal narcissism has created an atmosphere where people lack empathy, where they’re only concerned with themselves, and where kindness and mutual respect is looked upon as weakness. 

This mindset has created another huge issue in society, and that’s the unwillingness to cooperate with others, and especially to agree to disagree. Our society has become incredibly disrespectful, abusive and, at times violent toward anyone who disagrees with them.

But wait… there’s hope

There are still heroes and heroic feats. It is most evident when we look at all the healthcare workers who have risked their own lives to save others during this pandemic. There are still people who have the ability to feel empathy for others.

There are still those who will step beyond their comfort zone for the greater good, and believe in fighting the good fight.There are still people who can empathize and feel for others. There are still those of us who will protest and fight for what’s right and stand up against injustice.

Therefore, although narcissism might be on the rise, it doesn’t have to be in inevitable. We have another choice.    

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Who’s Life is More “Precious”?

Do we now pick and choose which lives are more “precious” than others?

I have tried very hard not to be political in my blogs. Trust me, it’s not easy. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue so hard that it hurts! But there comes a time when, as Edmund Burke said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for a few good people to do nothing!” And I believe that saying nothing and doing nothing is equivalent to compliance and consent, and, therefore, dangerous.

Throughout history, every time people have chosen to close their eyes and look the other way, tragedy ensued. For example, 6 million innocent Jews weren’t personally tortured and murdered by Hitler. No! He never killed one person and never visited one concentration camp.
Nevertheless, he was able to convince countless others to willingly (often enthusiastically) do his dirty work, while the rest of the world looked the other way, and pretended nothing was happening. 

Does this does sound like a scenario that could happen again? (You’re dammed right – it can!)

And it begins in increments… Keep in mind that even the biggest, most disastrous snowstorms began with a few gentle snowflakes...

In this blog, I’m going to try my best to avoid taking an overtly religious or political position. My mother and father would often say that it’s best to avoid debates on politics and religion, because no one wins, and friends are lost. This is still true today, but there’s a big difference. Once upon a time, people were more respectful of one another. And, believe it or not, it wasn’t that long ago. People understood the phrase “let’s just agree to disagree.“ Now, however, this common decency has become obsolete. If you don’t agree with some people, then you are, by default, the enemy. 

Some people will actually become violent and verbally abusive if you disagree with them. Does anyone else find this crazy and unacceptable? It’s a Hitler mentality… It’s a cult mentality… And it’s a dangerous mentality!

And so, I ask you, how the hell did a health issue become a political issue? A religious issue?How am I infringing upon your right if I ask you, as a fellow human being, to wear a mask so I won’t catch any possible illness, and I will do the same for you? Why is that offensive? Why is that asking too much of you? 

If you have a medical appointment, and your doctor decides that he or she is not going to wear a mask, would you find that unacceptable? Outrageous? Be honest. Would you say that he has the same right as you to refuse to wear a mask, because you are “infringing upon his rights?” Do you have different rules for your doctor (for example, “my doctor has a moral obligation to wear a mask when he/she is examining me?”) And, if so, why do these rules only apply when your safety is at risk??

Just help me to understand this. When I watch the news, and I see people having temper tantrums, saying that their rights are being infringed upon, I just don’t get it. As we say in New York, WTH? (or WTF?)

Anyhow, often, many of these individuals are the same people who are pro-life activists, and vehemently believe that “all life is precious.” Following that logic, let’s look at this scenario: Maybe you are a carrier of the COVID-19, and don’t know it yet. Maybe you’re next to someone, such as myself, who has an illness that puts them in a high risk situation. Do you not feel a moral obligation to see my life as precious as anyone else’s, for that matter? – Just as a fellow human being? No matter where I look, I just don’t seem to get a straight answer for this question, and that’s disturbing.

Help me to understand this... how is it that the same people who spent a great deal of time endorsing the “all life is precious“ philosophy, are the same people who are now fighting against wearing masks to stop the spread of a DEADLY virus... because, although “all life is precious”, there appears to be a caveat - all life is precious, BUT you’ll pick and choose who’s life is more precious? And... that makes sense, how?

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Smiles

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy." —Thich Nhat Hanh

Do you know that when you smile, your brain releases particular neurotransmitters, which are natural stress reducers? These include serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Endorphins are natural pain relievers, while serotonin acts as a natural antidepressant. 

It’s interesting to note that if we smile at someone, not only are these neurotransmitters released within our own brains, but the people that we are smiling at also have the same chemicals being released in their brains. (Now, how cool is that?)

Some research suggests that we can actually lower our heart rate by smiling. Furthermore, if you fake it till you make it, by feigning a smile, it will have the same effect.

Besides this, we all know that smiles can be infectious. If someone smiles at you, there’s a very good chance that you’re going to impulsively return that smile. It’s also interesting to note that when someone smiles, it can really warm our hearts. 

Smiling can make us appear younger. When we smile, our wrinkles are less noticeable, giving us a more youthful appearance. This fact alone is worth flashing those pearly whites!

Sometimes, when I’m not feeling well, despite my best efforts, my mood can easily become irritable and acrimonious. Trust me, when I find myself falling down this rabbit hole. I don’t even want to be in my own company for more than five seconds. A couple of times while in this frame of mind,  a simple smile was instrumental in helping the crankiness to melt away. And it doesn’t have to be from someone I know. The smile could be from a complete stranger. The source of the smile is irrelevant. There is just something very powerful and healing contained in this simple gesture.

Cortisol is another brain chemical, that is classified as a stress hormone. When we experience stress and anxiety, this chemical is automatically released. However… This is fascinating when the feel-good endorphins are being released, thenthis prevents the cortisol song from being released. Interesting? I thought so!

The cortisol hormone actually increases our uncomfortable, negative, cranky feelings.  Therefore, by lowering the cortisol levels, we can also decrease of the negative feelings.

By now you might  be wondering where I’m going with this topic. Also me to explain. Since early in 2020 nearly everyone on the glow is wearing a mask to contain the outbreak of the pandemic. We wear facial masks to protect ourselves and others, , and and I am 100% in favor of this. In fact, I believe that we have a moral obligation to do so.

In lieu of this new normal, however, every potential “smile” is being obscured by a mask. Are you wondering if this has any impact upon each of us?  If so, is there any way to work around it? I have some ideas. 

Since we can’t show our pearly whites at the moment, we can still say the words that could bring a smile to someone’s face. 

Just the simple tone of your voice can share the same sense of warmth and compassion equivalent to a big, happy grin!

For now, let’s learn to improvise. Smile with your heart. Smile with your energy. Smile with your love. Speak words of compassion that will bring a smile to the other person’s face. We just need to get a little creative, and making our smiles a little bit differently right now.   

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Emerging from the Covid-19 Storm

 

“Once the storm is over you will not remember have you made it through, how do you manage to survive. You won’t even know or be sure that the storm is really over. But there’s one thing for certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walks into the storm. Once the storm is over, you will not remember how  you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t know know or even be sure that the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked into the storm. And... that’s what the  storm is all about”. ~ Haruki Murakami
 
This week, I chose the above quote as the focal point of this blog, since it seems to reflect our global journey concerning the Covid-19 pandemic. Long after this storm has passed, each one of us will be forever changed.
 
There will be changes in society that we can only I anticipate, & we e will live with  new normals. Nothing will revert back to exactly the way it was before. And, long after the dust has settled, we will still be experiencing some aftermath. We now have an entire new vocabulary like social distancing, PPE’s, N95’s.
 
 
Amazon and other online outlets made tons of money, and some people will continue to purchase their products online. This might eventually lead to the closure of many retail stores and shopping malls. What was a blessing for Amazon and online businesses was a disaster for other companies. Education will change as people continue to take online courses, and many will not go back to living on campuses again.
 
The aftermath of the pandemic storm has a snowball effect, and an undetermined duration. How long will it be before people go to a movie theater, sports events, restaurants, any social gathering? How long will it take before we can be around other people without feeling afraid? No one really knows.
 
Some cultural norms will change. Some might be temporary, until people begin to feel more comfortable, or until a vaccine is created. Others norms might become permanent, depending upon each individual’s comfort level.
 
What about the ways in which we interact with one another? In the past, there was always subtle peer pressure to conform to traditional greetings, and non-conformity was met with judgement. For example, there are many cultures, including my own (Italian-American), where we greet one another with hugs or cheek kisses. In fact, in some families, it is considered disrespectful not to do so, especially in greeting elders. How will we greet each other now?
 
Even simple social graces like shaking hands will bring about anxiety. How comfortable will you be with shaking someone’s hand right now? Yet, before the pandemic, we didn’t give it a second thought.
 
Personally, I’ve always preferred the “Namaste“ Indian greeting with the folded hands in the front of us, and no physical contact. Try doing the above in an Italian-American family gathering, and see what happens. It should be interesting. Let’s face it, like it or not, we usually conform to the cultural norms consistent with our upbringing. 
 
In Catholic religious services, there’s a part of the mass where the congregants offer each other “the sign of peace”, which includes handshaking. How comfortable will people be with this now? How safe is it? How will this affect romantic relationships and social interactions? As you can see it gets complicated.
 
What have we learned? In general, although some people are selfish and “clueless, most people follow the CDC guidelines. Sadly, others follow our current enempt leadership and those  who know nothing about science.
 
We will come face-to-face with the fact that we have no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow. We need to live with uncertainty, live with the unanswered questions, and we’re powerless over everything except our own behavior and attitudes. 
 
regardless of the circumstances however we are going to survive! I always do!
 
 
 

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Coping During these Difficult Times

We are currently living in an atmosphere of unparalleled global fear, suffering, illness,  and death. Like you, I have been trying to wrap my head around all of this, isolating, praying that the virus declines, praying for the health care workers, those who are ill, and those who have lost loved ones. I am also praying that a vaccine is created very soon.  

It can be extremely difficult to feel God’s love and protection during a time when our world is overwhelmed by a deadly pandemic. Globally, over 210 countries and territories are have been effected by this pandemic, and countless people have already died. It’s terrifying and mind-boggling!

Families are grieving the loss of their loved ones, and others are heartbroken that they were not allowed to be with their sick loved one during their final moments, and sadly, these people died without the comfort of having their loved ones near them. Besides this, all of us must remain isolated and distance ourselves from each other at a time where we might need a hug and human contact the most. The overall global pain and fear is intense and palpable. 

We are suddenly faced with our mortality and how tenuous life actually is. Tragedies like this create heroes, and those working in healthcare are nothing short of heroic and selfless. Suddenly people are kinder to one another, and yet, at the same time, afraid to be near other people who might be carrying this virus. Our mixed feelings can be confusing. 

During times of great tragedy, some people will blame and walk away from God, while others will draw closer to their Higher Power. When we are immersed in a terrifying global pandemic like this, it’s hard to see beyond our fear, even though we know that the threat will eventually dissipate, and a vaccine will be created.
 
I’m in a high risk situation because I’m on dialysis and immune-compromised, and this adds to my anxiety. My dialysis clinic is using every precaution, all patients are screened before entering the building, and the nurses are amazing. Still, three days a week, when I must leave my house and go to dialysis, I’m terrified by the remote possibility of exposure. I’m surviving kidney disease, a day at a time, as well as other health challenges, and I surely don’t want this virus to be the cause of my demise!

So, how am I able to cope with the stress and fear created by this situation aside from prayer? Meditation, mindfulness, writing, and reading words that comfort and inspire me. I also limit the time I spend listening to cable news!

I have found the 23rd Psalm, has been particularly comforting. This particular psalm focuses upon walking through a period of darkness, yet feeling comforted by God’s presence and protection. Here’s The Passion Translation of an excerpt from Psalm 23:

The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness
so that I can bring honor to his name.
Lord, even when your path takes me through
the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strength and my peace.
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.

If you would to share some ways that you are coping, or simply say “hi” , I welcome your comments. Just click on the word “comment” below, on the left, then write your message. Stay safe.

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Coping with Covid-19

I haven’t written a blog in a few weeks, but in light of what is happening on a global level in terms of the Covid-19 pandemic, I would like to share some ideas and words of comfort and hope.

None of us expected that a virus would immobilize the entire planet. Usually this genre is the topic of horror movies. To say that it’s frightening would be an understatement.

This threat can best be compared to ibeing hit with a bucket of ice water, and it impacts upon every single one of us. This is especially true for those of us who have illnesses that make us immune-compromised.  Three times a week, I must go to the dialysis center for treatment, and even though they are taking every precaution, it still makes me feel uneasy.

Further, we cannot retreat in a comfortable psychological state of denial, because there’s no where to escape. We are inundated by the terrifying numbers of sick people and deaths. You can’t turn on the TV or go online without hearing and reading about this virus. 

Globally, we are experiencing the epitome of powerlessness, and quite frankly, it’s horrendous! Each of us is called upon to walk the talk. As the saying suggests, “Talk is cheap.” It’s fairly easy to be philosophical when our very existence is not being threatened. It’s far more challenging to rise above our fears and pull ourselves together in this atmosphere.

I think that technology has contributed to tone of self-centeredness. People would rather text than to talk on the phone, or God forbid, face-to-face. This focus has echoed  a social atmosphere that emphasizes a self-absorbed mentality  of “me, me, me” and “me first.” We have lost our ability to be patient, because computers have trained us to expect instant gratification and lightning-speed results.

But now, fear has changed the way that many of us see life. We are afraid, insecure, and we realize that we’re all in this together and we need each other. Fear can do that. Suddenly all of our petty differences have become irrelevant. Within the blink of an eye, our priorities have changed. We see that what we once thought was so important is now looked upon as irrelevant nonsense. In fact, many people who have not prayed for years are now looking to God for comfort and help. 

Since this virus is insidious, no one is completely safe. Even those who are wealthy cannot buy their way out of this situation. Illness is the great equalizer because everyone, rich or poor, are at risk, and the fear of death is universal.

Sadly, human beings have been  accustomed to wars. It’s so easy to defeat perceived enemies when they are visible and we have weapons to protect us. It’s not easy when we feel that we’re at the mercy of an enemy  that is invisible and deadly. We really don’t like the fact that our knowledge is so limited, and we don’t feel comfortable with the feeling that we’re basically unarmed.

When this epidemic is over, every one of us will look upon life and relationships quite differently. We will be reacquainted with how valuable life is. Hopefully , we will not
focus upon silly differences, and recognize that we far more in common than we have ever  realized. I hope that this happens. 

Sadly, many lives will be lost, and many will suffer the pain of these losses long after the virus subsides and becomes a distant memory. So, I hope that you are safe and healthy. If you’re a health care worker, thank you so much, and may God bless you and keep you safe. 

Stay strong and let’s pray for one another. We are all in this together. This too shall pass.

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Weathering the Storm

There is an adage that my mother would sometimes say, “When it rains, it pours.” This illustrates that often when adversity and troubling situations come at us, they are usually accompanied by other negative situations that seem to happen simultaneously, or in rapid succession. This past week, I have experienced the full meaning of this wise, timeless aphorism. More about that, coming up…

 

There’s another quote that also involves the metaphor of rain and struggle. However, it presents a very different way of looking at life difficulties. It reads, “Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning how to dance in the rain.” (Vivian Greene)

 

Therefore, like everything else in life, we have two different ways of how we can view and approach similar situations. Honestly, it took a few days before I was able to move from the horrible feeling of fear and powerlessness, to a place of acceptance and inner strength. How did I move from feeling helplessly rained upon to “dancing” in that downpour? Mindfulness, meditation and prayer. 

 

Allow me to expand a bit... mindfulness is about clearing our thoughts of disastrous projections and staying in the moment we’re in – the now. Is this easy? Heck, no. It takes work, and requires vigilance, but the payoff is tremendous and can be life-changing.

 

This week I devoted all of my focus and energy on practicing being in the present moment (mindfulness), and setting aside time (between several appointments) to meditate and pray. I’m not specifically talking about a particular religion, but rather a spiritual connection and conversation with the God of my understanding. I define prayer as communicating with my Higher Power. 

 

The power of prayer works for me, and if I didn’t have a strong spiritual connection, I would not have been able to survive this past year. Daily mindfulness and meditation is a winning and powerful combination.

 

In this past year, I was inundated by an enormous amount of unrelenting rain… my health situation took a hit, which brought me from 13 years of kidney disease to dialysis, because my kidney function suddenly and rapidly declined. Now, I have a rare complication with peritoneal dialysis, so I will be undergoing a second surgery, so I can switch to hemodialysis.
 

I have had some other non-medical setbacks and what appeared to be tragic losses. However, in hindsight I was able to see that these were probably blessings in disguise. It was simply time to shed the shackles of inordinately toxic relationships.

 

The year wasn’t totally horrible, and there were joyful moments too. I wrote two books that are selling quite well (and I’m working on a 3rd book.) More importantly, I’ve received so many messages from readers sharing that my books have helped them. I’m so honored and humbled that my words and experiences have helped others… that’s priceless. I’m also lucky to be married to someone who is supportive, loving, and understanding beyond what I can adequately express in words. Again… priceless.

 

Over the years, I’ve learned that when I’m having a challenging or a difficult time, it also helps me to balance the scales, by looking at my blessings, and getting off the “pity-pot” as quickly as possible, weathering the current storm, and reminding myself of another cliché that an ancient Persian Sufi poet once said: … “this too shall pass...”

 

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Miracles

“Don’t give up a minute before the miracle happens.”

Several years ago, I heard the quote cited above, and these words of encouragement have dwelled in my heart ever since. I have carried these words with me through many experiences, challenges, and tribulations, and they have helped me through many difficult moments. 
 
My life experiences, as well as continuous and persistent determination, tell me that I am a survivor. It’s probably in my DNA. Even when I feel weary and overwhelmed, I can still muster up increments of resilience.
 
Even when I might feel initially devastated by unexpected obstacles, the idea of giving up has never been a choice. I think Nietzsche’s quote sums it up nicely, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” So, as far as giving up is concerned... with God’s help...  it’s not gonna happen.
 
Concerning the second part of the quote… what exactly is “the miracle” that happens? Volumes of books have been written about the nature and the various aspects of miracles. One explanation that I particularly like comes from A Course in Miracles, which defines a miracle as a change in perception. This shift in perception melts away our fears and allows us to see a situation from a broader scope, and in ways that previously eluded us. This miracle also has the capacity to open our eyes and see the hope of infinite possibilities.
 
When you think about it, this expanded insight is miraculous in so many ways. It opens new doors, and gives us an opportunity to change our lives. Or, as A Course in Miracles asserts, “They (miracles) undo the past in the present, and thus release the future.”
 
Imagine walking into a dimly lit room. There are many things that we can’t see, but they are still there. Then, suddenly, a bright light emerges to illuminate the darkness, and we are shocked to see everything that, just a second ago, was invisible. New insights fill the room!  When our   perception is shifted, this changes things, including our choices and our future. And... that’s huge!
 
So, regardless of what’s happening in your life... never relent... stay strong... and keep your focus on the upcoming miracle - it’s only a moment away ...

 
 

 

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The Fire of God’s Wisdom

“At each and every sunrise you will hear my voice as I offer my prayer to you. Every morning I lay out the pieces of my life on the altar and wait for your fire to fall upon my heart.”  (Psalm 5:3 The Passion Translation)

This beautiful psalm captured my attention because it spoke to my actions every morning when I wake up. I talk to God about whatever might be troubling me  – “the pieces of my life.”  Then I say this prayer: “Dear God, please help me to remember that nothing can happen to me today that you and I can’t handle together.“ If it’s a particularly difficult day, I need to repeat this prayer throughout the day, to remind myself that I’m not alone, and God is walking with me on my life journey.

Sometimes situations approach us at 100 miles an hour, and with no forewarning. When we’re blindsided by events that are  unexpected, we become fearful.  Since this describes my week, I was reminded of a quote that I heard decades ago: People make plans, and God laughs. We can try to plan ahead, but it helps to remember that life is filled with uncertainty and surprises, curve balls and unexpected obstacles. There are times when our future plans can disintegrate before our eyes, and so it’s wise have a backup plan.

Acceptance

Once we can fully accept our powerlessness over external circumstances, life gets a lot easier. If you’re like me, you are familiar with the acceptance dance of moving forward toward acceptance, then taking a few steps backwards, and grabbing the steering wheel once again. It’s difficult to let go of our need to control situations, and it’s usually fear-based. Yet, we have all done this at one time or another, even when we realize that we don’t have the power to alter circumstances. 

Author M. Scott Peck asserted that “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, on… It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult - once we truly understand and accept it - then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

The Power of the Now

If we use mindfulness skills and try to stay in the present moment, it is easier to manage these unplanned hurdles. When I am presented with upsetting news, my gut reaction is to obsess about catastrophic outcomes. Through much personal growth work, I have learned that I can’t stay in this negative mindset for too long. After spending some time with negative projections, I move forward and explore Plan B and other options.

The Fire of God’s Wisdom

Besides acceptance and mindfulness, clarity of mind and taking action will help us to deal with our unexpected challenges. This brings us to the second part of this psalm, where we wait for God’s fire to fall upon hearts – wisdom, peacefulness, hope, and solutions. As this happens, the murky fog begins to dissipate and help us to move forward with strength and determination.

Acceptance is the first step that lights our path. As soon as we accept our circumstances, everything else will fall into place. Therefore, as 12-step recovery groups contend, “acceptance is the answer to all of our problems today.” 

 

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Unexpected Road Blocks

“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road. Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go. So make the best of this test and don't ask why. It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time.”  (Good Riddance – Time of Your Life ~  Green Day)

This week I want to talk about the unexpected roadblocks that we encounter in life. I chose to share the above lyrics because they eloquently capture the topic in this week’s blog. 

None of us can completely escape the occasional setbacks that jump in our path, sometimes without forewarning. When I was younger, I was overly concerned with analyzing and trying to understand the reasons why.

As I’ve matured, I began to realize that this was a futile waste of time, and I became better at accepting that often we have to live with unanswered questions. The mantra, “Why me?” will never take us to a good place or bring about a clear resolution. It will just frustrate us.

In the last few weeks, I have been bombarded with some unexpected and stressful health challenges that were quite unnerving. In hindsight, I took a closer look to see if I could identify any new insights. So, here goes…

If life is throwing stones at us, we have a few choices. We can see these stones as weapons, and allow them to assault and defeat us, or we can collect them and build a house. There’s a choice. We can choose to use them to our advantage rather than allowing them to cause our demise. 

Some health challenges force us to face the fact that we have zero control, and it can be frightening to come to terms with this reality. It might feel as if we’ve just been hit with a bucket of ice water. And then… suddenly… the world... and our place in it… looks completely different.

Once we’ve moved past the lament of “Life isn’t fair,” (and this might take a while), we can take a closer and clearer look at our circumstances and how we choose to interpret them.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr.Viktor Frankl sums this up nicely, asserting these observations:

  • When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
  • Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
  • Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. 
  • In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

I am not suggesting that this is easy. In fact, you might vacillate back and forth for a while. In my experience, mindfulness helps.

What road blocks are you currently facing? How do you handle them? What insights have you gained? I welcome your thoughts and comments.

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The Wisdom of Yoda

I have always loved the character, Yoda, the Jedi Master from the Star Wars movies. Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan, you might enjoy his words of wisdom. Let’s take a look …

1.  You must unlearn what you have learned.

How true is this? We’re all creatures of habit, but sometimes our habits aren’t serving us well. What then? According to Yoda, we need to unlearn our bad habits and replace them with more positive ones. Sometimes it can more difficult to unlearn a habit than to learn something new. It takes some work.                    

2. Do or do not. There is no try.

Have you ever said “I’m really trying to (you can fill in the blank) But is trying the same as doing? According to Yoda, the issue is black and white. 

This implies that trying is not doing. It’s more of a half-hearted effort.

3. Named must be your fear before banish it you can.

We can’t fix what we haven’t acknowledged. Once we face our fears and challenges, we can work towards correcting them.

4. Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

This is a basic tenet in all of the eastern spiritual traditions. Simply, when we obsess upon a thought, we give it  power. Anger is the defense mechanism that we often use to hid our fears. When we feel angry or resentful, we usually suffer more than the target of our anger. We are also giving the other person control over our lives.

5. That is why you fail.

In a memorable scene, Luke Skywalker became frustrated, by hi inability to conquer a task. Feeling feeling that the task was impossible, he says, “I don’t believe it”. Yoda’s response is simply, “That is why you fail.” We have to believe in ourselves to succeed. Once we convince ourselves that we can’t do something, we have already failed.

6. The greatest teacher, failure is.

Another interesting quote about failure… We seem to learn more from our mistakes than our accomplishments. Experience is the greatest teacher.

7. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing.

It takes a lot of work to keep our thoughts in the present moment. We’re usually thinking about yesterday or tomorrow. This disperses our energy and weakens us. Here, Yoda is telling us to focus all of our energy in the present moment. Stay in the now.

8. When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.

This quote has always intrigued me. What does it mean? One interpretation might be that the “dark side” (negative energy) can be alluring and take on a life of its own. Your thoughts?

9. To be Jedi is to face the truth, and choose. Give off light, or darkness, Padawan. Be a candle, or the night.

We all have choices in life. We can light the way for others and be “a candle”, or we can be darkness, live in darkness, and dwell in negative energy. 

In closing, these beautiful quotes are my favorites, and I am sharing my humble interpretations. If you like, I would love to hear your interpretations and thoughts.

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Bending and Breaking

In both of my books, I cite a powerful scene from Fiddler on the Roof, where Tevye talks about his inner conflict and his struggle to forgive his daughters. Briefly, his first daughter refused to marry a man through an arranged marriage because she was in love with someone else. This caused Tevye to feel humiliation and turmoil. Yet, eventually he forgave her. Then his second daughter married a revolutionary, and although he struggled again, eventually he forgave her too. 

However, when his third daughter eloped and married outside of the faith, he could not get past his internal struggle, saying,  “Can I deny everything I believe in? On the other hand, how can I turn my back on my faith? If I try and bend that far, I’ll break!”  Then he pauses and says, “On the other hand…”  He pauses again, and then he shouts. “No! There is no other hand!” And so, although it was upsetting and painful, he simply could not forgive his third daughter. 

Likewise, there are some people who are so toxic that they can push us to the breaking point. Moreover, if these toxic people are family members, we will usually tolerate more dysfunction or abuse than we would if the person was not related to us. 

In an effort to maintain harmony and avoid conflict, we might ignore offenses, or relent and apologize, even if we were right. In doing so, we begin to lose pieces of ourselves. This position is unsustainable, and is physically and emotionally unhealthy. 

No relationship can survive with ongoing drama or one-sided compromise. More importantly, if we keep relenting (bending), we sacrifice our self-respect. Therefore, we need to take a good look in the mirror and ask ourselves why we are allowing others to disrespect us. Why are we clinging to a situation that is hurting us? 

Dr. Phil often says that we teach people how to treat us. If this is true, then when we don’t establish clear boundaries, we are part of the reason why these individuals are treating us poorly. Moreover, it’s possible that toxic people might interpret our compliance as weakness or stupidity.

Concerning family members, if there is a shared troubling family history, then this further complicates things. This is especially true if we have moved past the dysfunction, while other family members might not have done so. Then there’s a good chance that they are just continuing the same unhealthy, toxic patterns. 

I often hear the cliché, “Be the better person.” On the surface, that sounds like good advice. However, we must ask ourselves: Are we sacrificing our self-respect under the guise of being “the better person?” It is really wise to “take the high road”, when it’s to our detriment? Is our compliance teaching people to hurt or disrespect us? 

Unfortunately, there are times when forgiveness cannot include reconciliation. There are some situations where we can only forgive and let go of our resentment by ending the relationship, especially if we are dealing with someone who is unreasonable and unapologetic. Then, exiting the relationship might be the only healthy option.

If we don’t take this stance, then we will continue to accumulate resentments, as our self-respect continues to melt away. As Tevye asserted, sometimes the solution is clear - we need to remove ourselves from the situation, and “No. There is no other hand,”

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