Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Native Summer

In 1971, there was a sleeper hit movie called “Billy Jack” about a ‘half-bread Indian’ and it has been one of my favorite movies of all time along with its sequels.  It was this film that began my interest in Native Americans and started planting the seeds of a serious spiritual journey that didn’t take root until many years later.

At the time, I also wasn’t aware of the conditions on the reservations and what all Native Americans are dealing with.  To this day, they continue to be one of the most discriminated against groups of people either on or off the reservations.  They were our original Americans and they have been treated poorly and unfairly ever since the early Europeans committed genocide on millions, took their land, and forced thousands onto reservations. 

And yet, they are a beautiful people whom I have come to highly respect and admire.  I have learned so much from their spirituality and much of it has become the foundation of what I believe today. 

Because of “Billy Jack,” I thought I would like to become a missionary to the Natives on their reservations.  In 1978, I signed up to become a student missionary through my church, and soon I was on Vancouver Island for a week of training.  But I had a rude awakening when I found that the various religions attending were arguing over who was going to ‘save the Indians.’  It was then and there that I decided I was just going to live with them, love them, and accept them just as they are. 

At the end of the week, we were broken into teams and assigned to various reservations across the British Columbia area.  My teammate and I were assigned to the Okanagan Reservation.  We started out in an old summer house that had only one working light and the water was pumped from a nearby stream.  We also used an outhouse with no door and could only go during the day because of the bears. 

Soon, we went to live with the Ben and Rosie Louis family, which consisted of their 15 children, the youngest being 21.  My teammate Eileen and I then lived in a pick-up camper trailer that sat on stilts in a yard.  I remember one night we awoke to the trailer being bumped to and fro.  Frightened, we looked out the window to find a horse scratching his hind end on a corner of the trailer.  Later, we moved into the home of Ben and Rosie who lived back a really long lane.

Most of the family was involved in rodeos so we had a great time riding horses and attending the events with the family.  I even got to try barrel racing and pole bending on a horse that was pregnant and blind in one eye, and my new-found friends were surprised that I did so well.
While there, Eileen and I also conducted a vacation Bible school for the kids and I fell in love with each and every one of them. 

I had so many wonderful experiences that will last me a lifetime!  I learned to milk a cow.  I learned to Indian leg wrestle and was quite good at it beating most everyone until I wrestled one of the guys who rode bucking horses, and he about threw me through the wall!  I even swam in the lake that was the home of the legendary Ogopogo monster! 

While there, I fell so in love with the whole family and we ended up sort of adopting each other.  I came to consider them as much my family as any of my blood family, and some of us still keep in touch to this day.

Because I decided to love and accept them just as they are, the staff psychiatrist said I was the only missionary student who did not experience any culture shock.  This was a great lesson to me in the importance of loving people unconditionally.

This also taught me how important it is to get to know people from other cultures, as well as those whose beliefs may be different than ours.  When we do, we find that we have more in common than not, and we can actually make many lasting friendships. 

I would like to dedicate this article to my Native family whom I love and miss so very much!  They’ve all been such a blessing to me and I’m a better person because of knowing them and all they’ve given me.  They’ve touched me deep within my soul and a part of my heart will always remain with them.

“Respect others.  Help others.  Love others.  These are the keys that unlock our soul.”  Anthony Douglas Williams

(Pictured:  Ben and Rosie Louis, both of whom have since made their transitions.  I miss them dearly.)

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 22, 2016.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Healing Racism

Yes, racism exists.  It has existed since the beginning of mankind and it will more than likely exist for decades to come.  The violence that we’ve been seeing in the name of racism, particularly with the recent Dallas events, is heartbreaking.  You would think that we would be better than this by now.  People have been working really hard for generations, putting their heart and soul into overcoming racism.  And yet here we are still dealing with the rage and pain that have affected people of all races throughout history, some more so than others. 

We are not born racists.  Racism is taught.  It is also learned through our own experiences.  Then those teachings and/or experiences turn into our beliefs about others.  For whatever reasons, we become racist when we become against a whole group of people just because of the color of their skin.  What’s interesting is that if a white person hurts a white person, the latter doesn’t hold it against all whites.  If a black person hurts a black person, the latter doesn’t hold it against all blacks.  You can exchange the color with any color.  You can also exchange the color with any religion.  So if we’re not going to hold it against our own race or religion, then why do we hold it against others? 

The events in Dallas were tragic (as they are anywhere they occur)... the police who were shot, as well as all the innocent lives that got caught in the crossfire.  And then there are the black men who have been shot by the police.  We have a lot of healing to do, for sure.  But we’re not going to find solutions or heal if we keep pointing fingers and finding ways to keep us separate!  We have got to start moving away from fear (hate and racism are byproducts of fear), and move into a state of love and compassion.  And people are doing so!  We’re seeing it! 

People from all races and groups are coming together all over the country to show their love and support for all concerned.  I’ve been seeing some beautiful videos and articles on Facebook where people are uniting for a common cause!  The hugs I’m seeing between all races just make my heart sing!  One such video showed dozens of people of all colors hugging several officers after an interfaith prayer service in Dallas.   Officers and civilians are hugging each other all over the country in stores, parking lots, at peaceful protests, and so on.  They’re also sharing tears because people are realizing just how much a part of each other we really are and that we’re all in this together. 

We have also got to stop making blanket statements about whole groups of people!   For example…   Not all cops are bad.  Not all blacks are thugs.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  Not all Christians are hateful and judgmental.  In fact, there are so many more who are good, decent, kind-hearted, and loving!  We just don’t hear about them.  So, please, never give up on humanity!  We’re getting there, but we still have a lot of work to do!

To be clear, this isn’t to say that people don’t have legitimate complaints and concerns.  They do, and they need to be taken care of.  But as the saying goes, are we going to be a part of the solution or part of the problem?  This goes for every politician and religious leader, as well as each of us individually.  Are we helping or hurting?  Are we speaking words of hate and fear, or love and compassion?  Are we bringing people together or keeping them apart?  It starts with each of us!

We have got to stop putting labels on people because labels come with judgments.  Take away all our labels and we see that we really are one race…the human race.  Desmond Tutu said, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

As for the recent events, Van Jones had it right when he said, “Everybody’s got to reach deep down and find some empathy.  If you cried for the brother who bled out next to his fiancĂ©e, but you didn’t cry for those police officers, it’s time to do a heart check.  If you cried for those police officers, but you have a hard time taking seriously all these videos that are coming out about African Americans dying, it’s time to do a heart check.  We are either going to come together or come apart.  There’s enough pain on both sides that there should be some empathy starting to kick in.”

And as Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”   

Published July 15, 2016 in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Filling Your Well of Love

Most of you know that I write a lot about love; loving others and loving ourselves as well, and I’m going to keep writing about it because we still have a lot of work to do, not just on ourselves, but in the world. 

I’m constantly working on myself to be more loving, kind, and compassionate, and I’m going to be doing so until the day I leave this planet.  Of course, I still get angry, upset, and sad, and I have those days when it feels like the world is against me.  But even on my worst days, I try to keep a good attitude and keep my happy face on as I don’t want to pass my bad day on to others.  I want to lift people up; not tear them down.

Some may say I’m not being real or authentic.  This is my being authentic.  Part of my authenticity means not causing harm to others.  We never know what other people are going through and I don’t want to be responsible for saying that one word or committing that one action that may make someone else have a really bad day or even destroys someone’s life. 

As you know, there’s a lot of chaos on the planet.  Hate, anger, and violence, which are all byproducts of fear, dominate the news all over the world.  Many people think the answer is more of the same.  Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."  Millions of people all over the earth are breaking the chains of darkness and are working towards bringing love, light, and peace to all.  More would like to do so, but they don’t know where to start.  Gandhi said “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  And as Michael Jackson sang, “I'm starting with the man in the mirror.  I'm asking him to change his ways.  And no message could have been any clearer.  If you want to make the world a better place…  Take a look at yourself, and then make a change.”

In order to change the world, we need to work on ourselves.  If we don’t have our wells of love overflowing, then we’re not going to have the love to give to others.  People tend to treat others the same way they feel about themselves, and we’re especially seeing this, not only in those around us, but in a lot of people who have been in the news.  If you truly and unconditionally loved yourself, you would never even think about harming yourself or anyone else!  Begin with you.  As you learn to love yourself unconditionally, your heart will open so far and wide that you can’t help but spread the love to those around you.  You do so one person at a time and those one persons can add up to a lot of people!  You can also help fill your well by committing random acts of kindness to help others feel loved and appreciated.  When you make others feel good, it helps yourself to feel good!

Matt Kahn wrote an excellent book called “Whatever Arises, Love That – A Love Revolution That Begins with You,” and I would highly suggest reading it.  He included the following words that have such a profound effect that I would recommend taking them to heart.

“When I’m sad, I deserve more love, not less.  When I’m angry, I deserve more love, not less. When I’m frustrated, I deserve more love not less.  Whenever I’m hurt, heartbroken, ashamed, or feeling guilty, I deserve more love, not less.

Even when I’m embarrassed by my actions, I deserve more love, not less.  Equally so, when I’m proud of myself, I deserve more love, not less.  No matter how I feel, I deserve more love not less.  Despite what I think, I deserve more love, not less.

No matter the past that I’ve survived, I deserve more love, not less.  No matter what remains up ahead, I deserve more love, not less.  On my worst day, I deserve more love, not less.

Even when life seems cruel and confusing, I deserve more love, not less.  When no one is here to give me what I need, I deserve more love, not less.  In remembering the greatest way I can serve the world, I deserve more love, not less.

No matter what I’m able to accept, whomever I cannot forgive, or whatever I’m unable to love for whatever reason, I deserve more love, not less.”

Kahn also wrote, “One loving embrace at a time, you become a living testimony of just how powerful, aligned, inspired, and happy you have always been destined to be.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 8, 2016.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Cause for Humanity

The other day, I went to see the movie “Independence Day.”  As a sequel it was pretty good.  I’m really not into movies with violence much anymore, but I do occasionally like a good action film with my favorite actors. 

While I was watching the movie, I began to see some parallels from the story to what is happening in our world today.  No, we are not being overtaken by aliens (that we know of), but the fear, chaos, and disasters seem to be predominant issues, at least in the news.  According to the media, it seems like the world has gone absolutely crazy with natural disasters, mass killings, the European Union event, and some in politics, religions, and other areas have completely lost their minds, and so on. 

As I was watching the movie and thinking about all of this, I started to take on the weight of the world, which I’m sometimes apt to do, and it can be completely overwhelming for me.  I take on the pain, the fear, the suffering, and so much more that people are feeling and going through and it was all I could do to keep from breaking down in the theatre.

When I see the way humans are treating each other just because of any perceived differences, it makes me really sad to the core of my being.  For instance, it never ceases to amaze me to see ministers and other religious leaders expound such hate and vitriol from the pulpit.  Some are actually praying for and promoting the deaths of certain people or groups of people and then celebrating when they do die or something bad happens to them.  And I certainly never thought I’d ever see certain presidential candidates spew such detestation and violence towards numerous groups of people and wanting to get rid of them, as well as all the childish name calling, temper tantrums, lying, banning anyone who doesn’t agree, and wanting to literally destroy people’s lives because of hate, bigotry, ignorance, and differences in beliefs. 

The sad part is that so many people are believing and following these ministers, politicians, and others, and many claim to be people of faith.  And that makes me even sadder.  Jesus made it very clear when he said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)  Whenever I see anyone say they are speaking for God or Christianity in particular, this is the verse I think of to gauge whether they really are disciples of Jesus.  This is the verse I think of when discerning who to listen to or who to believe. Too many people have taken Jesus’ teachings out of Christianity and made it into a man-made religion to justify their own personal beliefs and agendas.  This could be said of other religions and their spiritual masters as well.  Of course, I’m certainly not going to tell anyone what to believe; that’s not my purpose.  And I also certainly don’t mean to judge anyone; that’s between the person and their Creator.  (To be clear, there are billions of people who do follow the teachings of their spiritual masters.)

In the above movie, Bill Pullman’s character, now former President, made a great speech and I wish I could remember everything he said because it was beautiful and could be applicable for us today (without the aliens).  He basically mentioned how the invasion, which destroyed so many lives, has actually brought people from all over the world together and united everyone as one people.  What will it take for us to learn this lesson?  Do we need another major disaster either in our country or world before we remember how much a part of each other we really are?  You’d also think our religions would be enough to teach us to love and care for one another, but apparently they’re not, and that’s beyond heartbreaking.  (Again, to clarify, there are those in various religions who do teach love and do care for others.)

Shakieb Orgunwall said, “Somewhere in our pursuit of being better Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, or Jews, we’ve forgotten to be human beings and what it means to genuinely love and respect one another.  Being human and expressing a common concern for humanity is a prerequisite to membership in any faith.”  Aberjhani stated, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream was a manifestation of hope that humanity might one day get out of its own way by finding the courage to realize that love and nonviolence are not indicators of weakness, but gifts of significant strength.”  And Martin Luther King, Jr. himself declared, “Hatred paralyzes life, love releases it.  Hatred confuses life, love harmonizes it.  Hatred darkens life, love illuminates it.”  

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper July 1, 2016.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The All Consuming Love

Love. The dictionary defines love as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; attraction that includes sexual desire: the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship; and a person you love in a romantic way.”  Reading this definition still doesn’t tell me what love is or what it feels like.  Defining love is like defining God.  It can’t be done; it can only be experienced.  Each person experiences love differently; therefore, each person has a different definition of what they think love is. 

The ancient Greeks spoke of love in six different categories.  The first is Eros love, which is the physical, romantic intimacy between two lovers.  Philia is the love of deep friendship and the bond that is developed between people.  It is sacrificing for your friends, being loyal, and sharing your emotions.  Ludus is the playful love when people are flirting, joking around, dancing, or laughing with friends.  Pragma is longstanding love such as the love between a couple who have been together for years.  Philautia is love for self, though there is a healthy and unhealthy version.  The unhealthy is associated with narcissism and being self-obsessed.  The healthy version is one where you have a great capacity to love.

And then there’s Agape, which is selfless love, the love that we extend to all people.  C.S. Lewis called it ‘gift love’ or the highest form of Christian love, although it also appears in other religions.  Paulo Coelho stated, “Agape is total love, the love that devours those that experience it. Whoever knows and experiences Agape sees that nothing else in this world is of any importance, only loving. This was the love that Jesus felt for humanity, and it was so great that it shook the stars and changed the course of man’s history.”

I didn’t really totally understand Agape love until I lost my little boy (Toy Poodle) several years ago.  He was my child and his death absolutely devastated me (as it did with any of my ‘kids’).  One night, I was lying in bed so distraught with grief that I just didn’t care about anything anymore.  I didn’t care if I left the world that night just so I could be with him.  I wasn’t suicidal and wouldn’t have done anything to harm myself; it was just my frame of mind at that moment.  Then it came to me.  Nothing mattered.  Nothing.  I saw all the nonsense occurring in the world and I could only ask ‘why?’  Soon, another epiphany...  Nothing matters except for the meaning that you give to it.  I was able to stand back and see the world like I was watching it on a movie screen.  And then the greatest Divine thought came to me.  Nothing matters but love…the pure unconditional, perfect love of the All-That-Is, and we are all connected as Divine beings in this play called life.  In that moment, I saw it and I felt it.  I got it!  It helped me see the world in a different light, and that light overcame the darkness.  I still grieved and bawled me a river of tears for months to come for my boy, but as far as humanity and our world, I got it!

We’re seeing a lot of hate, bigotry, anger, violence, and ignorance in the world right now; a lot of it is being promoted by the media, politicians, and religious leaders.  And that’s sad as it makes it seem so much larger than it is.  But there’s something greater brewing!  We are now seeing love start to swell in more and more people all over the earth and we’re allowing our Divine light to overcome any darkness in the world!  Mainstream media may not be reporting it, but we are seeing it on social media!   Countless people are uniting together as one heart filled with unconditional love for all people.  We know that united we stand, divided we fall. 

We need to learn Agape love, not only for others, but for ourselves!  If we really, truly loved ourselves unconditionally, we could never, ever cause any harm to anyone or anything!  It’s the love that all our great Spiritual Masters taught us!  Love one another, and love your neighbor as yourself!

Ram Dass said, “Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It is part of our deep inner being.”  And Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.  I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 24, 2016.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Love And Compassion Are Necessities, Not Luxuries

Sigh…  Another senseless massacre in Orlando with the shooting at a gay nightclub killing fifty people and injuring countless others by a homophobic lost human being...a being that was filled with so much hate towards another group of people because of fear.  (Hate is a byproduct of fear.)  With easy access to guns, he slaughtered a group of beautiful souls. 

What’s even more sad is the number of people who are celebrating these deaths just because they were gay.  Many Christian preachers are even celebrating and some were actually telling people to go out and kill those in the LGBT communities.  And that’s even sadder.  This is not the Christianity that I believe in!

I used to be homophobic.  I believed that gays were going to hell because that’s what my religion taught me…until I learned otherwise.  I’ve told this story before, but I’m going to tell it again.  In 1980 while living in California, I was in my ‘if you don’t believe the way I do, then you’re going to hell’ belief system.  However, sometimes Spirit gives me that loving, yet firm smack on the back of my head to get my attention, and boy, did Spirit get my attention!

I had gone to a Hungarian dance with a friend of mine, and when we got there, I saw a tall person standing in the circle of dancers.  My friend told me that this person was a transsexual.  I was horrified and commented, “That thing isn’t even human!”  So we left.  To this day, it pains me that I could say something so mean and hateful towards another human being. 

Later, I had gone to the Hollywood bookstore, got into a conversation with the store clerk, and he began to tell me his story.  He was a man, became a woman, and was in the process of becoming a man again.  He had been put under too much pressure by a religion to believe that he was committing a horrible sin by doing so; therefore, he gave up his truth and relented.  Then a guy I knew walked in with a woman, and while in conversation, I learned her story.  She was a man, became a woman, and because of the pressure of religion, was going to become a man again.  Here I am freaking out being in a room with two freaks, trying to find a way to escape, when my friend suggested we all hold hands and pray.  So here I am holding hands with a freak on each side of me, while I’m freaking out, and then I got that loving spiritual smack on the back of my head.  I heard the words just as clearly as if someone spoke them.  “Karen, these too are my children and I love them just as much as all my children.”   I didn’t change my beliefs right there and then, but a seed was planted.

When I moved back home to Indiana, I started reading Shirley MacLaine’s books, and the greatest thing she taught me was to keep an open mind in ALL things.  It was then that I began my adventure on a serious spiritual journey.

When I moved to Nashville in 1992 to pursue an acting and dancing career, I began meeting people who were gay.  I found them to be wonderful people and many became my friends.  When I moved to Cookeville, I met more gays and acquired more amazing friendships.  I even met and have become friends with a few transgenders.  I overcame my fear of a group of people who may have been different than me, but I opened my heart and have been blessed because of it.

When Jesus said his greatest commandment over all others was to love one another, he wasn’t kidding around.  He made no exceptions, and I have taken that commandment to heart and try to live it.  It’s not always easy.  I have to watch my thoughts when I find myself hating the haters, but I know that they are living in fear just like I had been before I learned otherwise.

My heart and soul goes out to the victims and their family and friends of this horrific tragedy.  Whether we’re Christians or of another faith (or none), the best thing we can do is show compassion as our Spiritual Masters taught us.  This could easily have been a large church or anywhere else.  These were our sisters and brothers and when something horrible happens to anyone, it happens to all of us.

The Dalai Lama said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  Without them, humanity cannot survive.”  And Buddha stated, “If you truly loved yourself, you could never hurt another.”  Magnificent words to live by! 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 17, 2016.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Your Past is Not Your Identity

In a scientific experiment, Julius and Vincent were born fraternal twins from the DNA of six fathers in order to produce the perfect child.   Julius was the healthy and perfect baby while Vincent was much smaller and more fragile.  The mother was told that Julius died at birth and wasn’t told about Vincent at all.  Julius was raised by a professor on a South Pacific island.  He was loved and nurtured, highly educated, and sheltered from the world.  Vincent was placed in an orphanage, believed that his mother had abandoned him, and he didn’t get the love and attention Julius received.  Later, he ran away and became a con artist, doing his best to survive. 

When Julius turned 35, the professor told him that he has a twin brother, so he leaves the island to find him, discovers him in Los Angeles, and tells him that he’s his twin.  Vincent doesn’t believe him and abandons him.  Julius is tall and handsome and worked out; therefore, he was in excellent health.  Vincent was short, homely, and overweight.  Julius didn’t give up though, and continued to pursue and convince him.  After numerous humorous adventures, Vincent finally accepts that they are brothers, they become good friends, and Vincent changes his ways under the loving nurturing of his brother and their girlfriends.

This was the movie “Twins” starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as Julius and Danny DeVito as Vincent.  It’s a comedy, but at the same time, it is a great message movie and really made it clear as to how we can become who we are.  We are all products of our upbringing, culture, beliefs, and experiences.  Because Julius was loved and nurtured, he grew up to be happy and had a healthy self-esteem.  Vincent, growing up an orphan and never receiving love or nurturing, therefore, turned to crime and had poor self-esteem. 

There’s a true story in Tony Robbins book “Awaken the Giant Within” of two brothers close in age who had an abusive alcoholic father serving life in prison for murder.  One brother also became an alcoholic and ends up in prison; the other became successful and had a loving family.  Both were asked separately, “Why has your life turned out this way?”  Both gave the same answer, “What else could I have become having grown up with a father like that?”

We are all influenced by our past.  Some of us grow up with wonderful lives; no complaints.  Others go through horrific experiences that could destroy the best of us.  Neither way guarantees how we will be as adults and both stories above are good examples.  Julius had a great childhood and grew up to be a well-adjusted adult.  Vincent had a horrible childhood and ended up being a dysfunctional adult.  In the second story, both brothers had a horrible childhood; one grew up dysfunctional and the other well-adjusted.

So what’s the difference?  Our choices.  We always have choices.  Some people don’t believe they have choices, which is also a choice.  Our pasts shape our beliefs about ourselves, our lives, and our world, and that’s the key right there.  Once we become aware that we can change our thoughts and beliefs, then we can overcome most anything.  There are some exceptions such as severe mental illnesses, extremely traumatic events, etc., but there are stories of even these overcoming their pasts.  (Most children are also exceptions to this.)

What happens to some people is that their past becomes their identity and they don’t know who they are without their past experiences.  They’re afraid of who they could be without them.  It takes courage to step into the unknown not knowing what the future may hold, but when we do, we can overcome most anything that has held us prisoners of our past.  Nothing has meaning except for the meaning that we give to it, and we can change the meanings from our past and can become stronger and better human beings because of it!

We also have to stop the blame game and take 100% responsibility for our own lives.  Every person is only doing the best they can with what they know at the time, and many are living what they were taught or from what they experienced.  You can either be a victim of your past or a hero of your future. 

James Cisneros said, “Everything we are currently experiencing in our lives comes about in order to assist us in evolving to a higher level of consciousness.  Even what we now perceive as bad, sad, negative, or upsetting is here to assist us in seeing life in a more peaceful, forgiving, and loving way.”  And Byron Katie stated, “What you’re believing in the moment creates your suffering or your happiness.”  

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 10, 2016.