Saturday, May 21, 2016

I'll Laugh With God Anytime!

Recently, I read a great book titled, “Why Is God Laughing?  The Path to Joy and Spiritual Optimism” by Deepak Chopra.  I love reading spiritual novels which are fictional stories, yet contain a lot of spiritual truths to them.  Many that I read are based on the author’s real life experiences, yet they use their imagination to enhance the story’s plot while weaving in the lessons they actually learned in life.

“Why is God Laughing” is an uplifting read on spirituality and gives us ten reasons to be optimistic even in a challenging world.  It also teaches us why laughter from the heart is a very healthy response to life.  As Epictetus said, “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

It’s about a fictional character named Mickey, who is a successful comedian, yet just as human as the rest of us.  When his father dies, he goes into a deep despair turning to alcohol to try to deaden the pain.  At one point he was passed out on the couch when he heard his father, Larry, coming through the TV.  After his initial shock, he began having a conversation with his dad, who started explaining what it was like after he died.  He said he didn’t see God, but he heard the voice of God.  Mickey asks him what God said and Larry replied, “He didn’t say anything.  He was laughing.”  Mickey asked if God was laughing at Larry, but Larry answered, “He wasn’t laughing at anybody.  This laughter was everywhere.  It filled the universe.  It was pure joy.”  He added, “Everyone should hear that sound.  Kiddo, it would make all the difference.  Until the world laughs with God, nothing’s going to change.”

One day Mickey meets a mysterious gentleman named Francisco who ends up changing his life forever.  Through riddles from Francisco, and by having Mickey experience different scenarios, Mickey begins to look within for his answers and discovers the truth of who he really is. 

At the end of the book, Chopra gives us ten principles that Francisco imparted to Mickey and explains them in more detail.  Chopra states, “As realization grows within you, there is no limit to what you may become; the only certainty is that you will be transformed.” 

These principles are as follows:  1) The healthiest response to life is laughter.  2) There is always a reason to be grateful.  3) You belong in the scheme of the Universe.  There’s nothing to be afraid of.  You are safe.  4) Your soul cherishes every aspect of your life.  5) There is a plan, and your soul knows what it is.  6) Ecstasy is the energy of Spirit.  When life flows, ecstasy is natural.  7) There is a creative solution to every problem.  Every possibility holds the promise of abundance.  8) Obstacles are opportunities in disguise.  9) Evolution leads the way through desire.  And, 10) Freedom is letting go.  As it states on the book’s inside cover, “In the end, we really don’t need a reason to be happy.  The power of happiness lies within each of us, just waiting to be unleashed.”

I can imagine that some are having a hard time imagining God laughing, but why not?  Laughter is very healing!  Personally, I consider laughter to be the music of the Universe!  But how can God laugh when so many people are suffering here on Earth?  Even though we see so much suffering, don’t we still laugh?  It doesn’t mean that we don’t care.  We still love and help our fellow beings.  It’s a hard concept to understand, but once we do, we realize that we humans take ourselves way too seriously, and that in itself is a hard concept to understand when we do see so much suffering.

Laughter is a very spiritual emotion and is one of the greatest gifts from God to us.  It’s everywhere if you just listen.  Osho said, “If you become silent after your laughter, one day you will hear God also laughing, you will hear the whole existence laughing…trees and stones and stars with you.” 

To give laughter is a wonderful gift you can give to others.  As Lateef Warnick stated, “The greatest life one can have is of service. Give joy, happiness, bliss, laughter, wisdom, prosperity, love, and light to others. By doing so, you tap into the Infinite Source within ensuring that you will never have to do without these ‘treasures’ yourself!”

Whether you believe God laughs or not is up to you, but for me?  I’ll laugh with God anytime, and I’d be willing to bet God has a really great, infectious laugh! 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 20, 2016.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The Soul Is the Truth of Who We Are

There was a great movie called “Cocoon” that’s about aliens disguised as humans who come back to earth to retrieve twenty of their friends who were kept alive in pods which were left behind at the bottom of the ocean.  They retrieve the pods with the help of a human boat captain and put them in an abandoned indoor swimming pool.  Next door is a retirement home where several elders find out about the pool and decide to go for a swim.  Seeing the strange pods, they decide to swim anyway.  The elders and the aliens soon meet, and along with the captain, they all become fast friends.  It’s a beautiful movie about friendships and people coming together in spite of any perceived differences. 

One scene made a huge impact on me.  The captain was on his boat with the aliens, and a female alien was in one of the rooms.  As the captain watched her from outside the room, the woman reached behind and unzipped her ‘costume’ causing the human disguise to fall to the floor.  The captain was shocked to see that underneath was the most beautiful light being. 

When I saw that scene, I had a great aha moment!  That must be what the soul is like!  Every single being on earth has this soul light within because we were all made from that same light Source (God or by whatever name you use).  Within us, that beautiful light emanates and glows.  When we are aware of that light which is made of pure, unconditional, perfect love, we can let that light shine outwards towards others, and we can connect with the light of all those around us and in the world.  We know that we are all connected because we are all made of the exact same substance, the same substance that makes up the stars and everyone and everything around us.  Billy Fingers said, “Imagine your cells as billions of stars sparkling inside of you.”  I love that image!

When I first came to this realization, it taught me not to judge, that we really are all created equal, and that when we hurt others, we are only hurting ourselves.  When we take off the labels we use to define us, we realize we really are a soul.  The soul has no color, race, religion, gender, nationality, etc., and there is no separation.  Marianne Williamson said, “The soul is the truth of who we are.”

The adventure is that because we are souls living in a human body and we have no memory of who we were before we came here, we get caught up in so much of the human drama that makes up our lives, and then we acquire those labels that end up defining us.  Once we become conscious of the soul within and our connection to others, we then can no longer be a part of hurting anyone else for any reason.  As Deepak Chopra stated, “If we could learn to live from the level of the soul, we would see that the best most luminous part of ourselves is connected to all the rhythms of the universe.  We would truly know ourselves as the miracle-makers we are capable of being.”   If we could all really see each others’ souls, there would literally be peace on earth. 

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 states, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.” 

Jesus and all the great spiritual masters in all genuine religious and spiritual teachings knew this eternal truth as well as our connectedness with each other.  We are bound together by these loving souls that are within each and every one of us.  Trudy S. Vesotsky said, “Your soul is the extension of a higher source, its love for you is greater than anything you can experience outside of yourself.” 

I love the term Namaste` which means, “My soul honors your soul.  I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides.  I honor the light, love, truth, beauty, and peace within you, because it is also within me.  In sharing these things, we are united, we are the same, we are one.”

We can all become more enlightened when it comes to our souls.  As James Blanchard Cisneros said, “Enlightenment is not a change into something better or more, but a simple recognition of who we truly already are.” 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 13, 2016.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Good Luck, Bad Luck? Who Knows?

There’s a story of a farmer and his son who had a magnificent stallion.   One day, the horse ran away and the neighbors exclaimed, “What terrible luck!”  The farmer replied, “Maybe so; maybe not.”

A few days later, the horse returned home bringing with him several wild mares.  The neighbors declared, “Your stallion has returned with several other horses!  What great luck!  The farmer again replied, “Maybe so; maybe not.”

Later, the farmer’s son was riding one of the mares when she threw him to the ground causing a bad break in his leg.  The neighbors sympathized, “How awful about your son!  What terrible luck!”  Once more the farmer replied, “Maybe so; maybe not.”

Not long after, soldiers from the army marched through town recruiting all the eligible males, but they didn’t take the farmer’s son because of his injury.  Elated, the neighbors cried out, “Your boy was spared from war!  What tremendous luck!”  The farmer replied once again, “Maybe so; maybe not.” 

This wonderful story came to my mind recently as I went through a catastrophic event that had me so upset and wanting to eat a brownie the size of a cow.  My computer crashed.  Not only that, our Internet provider’s back-up program hadn’t backed up my computer for over two months, even though their numerous techs insisted that everything was being backed up.  I cried a few tears, did some comfort eating, went into my shell, and had myself a huge pity party for a party of one.  Me.  For the next several days, I was in major bummie mode and was having a hard time getting myself de-bummed.

Yeah, yeah, I know…  My computer crashing isn’t a big deal compared to what other people are going through and with what’s going on in the world, and the possibility of losing over two month’s writings and work can’t be compared to diseases and death.  But for that one vulnerable moment in time, it took me out big time.  I’m a writer and I write a lot, so losing any of my work could be a huge bummer.

I am a big believer that good comes from everything even though we may not always see it at the time.  Or we may never openly see it, but it will happen.  We just have to keep an open mind and look for the signs.  And trust me…at the moment I’m looking big time.

Those who know me also know that I’m an incurable optimist to the point that it can sometimes drive friends and family bonkers.  What many don’t know, except for my closest friends, is that I do have my pessimistic moments more times than I care to admit.  I just don’t complain or talk about them.  I may mention something that happened in passing, but I refuse to play the victim card. 

When I look back on my life, I can see how good manifested from the experiences I thought were traumatic at the time.  For some of them, it took years before I could look back in hindsight and see the good that had transpired.    

You may ask how good can come from such terrible disasters such as 9/11.  Tragedies such as these are horrific and they can leave people scarred for life.  The thing to remember is these events unite people from all over the world to help.  We all see each other only as human beings and look past the labels.  The problem is that people soon forget, and society and nations go right back to their fighting and arguing and seeing only the labels that each of us wears.

Another example would be to look at all the hate, bigotry, and violence that is being propagated right now.  Yes, many people who are steeped in fear of others for whatever reasons are joining the dark side, so to speak.  What people don’t realize, and too few can see, is that all this is actually teaching people to love!  It’s uniting people and bringing us together from all races, religions, nationalities, genders, politics, and walks of life.  Again, love doesn’t sell in the media so we don’t hear about these wonderful stories of hope, courage, and oneness. 

Of course, being an optimist or always looking for the good doesn’t mean we ignore the bad or negative.  Our perspectives are choices that we make.  Walt Disney said, “I always like to look on the optimistic side of life, but I am realistic enough to know that life is a complex matter.”  And Noam Chomsky stated, “Optimism is a strategy for making a better future.  Because unless you believe that the future can be better, you are unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.” 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper May 6, 2016.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Who is God?

Who is God?  What is God?  Is there a God?  What form does God take?  Does God cause all the tragedies we experience on earth?  How can God make children suffer?  Is God a man who sits up in the sky on a throne with long white hair, beard, and long robe, and punishes us when we’re bad?  Is He a man, woman, or genderless?  Is He a God of love, or a vengeful God who is full of anger and judgment?   These are some of the greatest mystery questions of the ages.

What does God even look like?  I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.  In fact, I have never read or heard where anyone said they have seen the actual face of God.  In the story of Moses and the burning bush, Moses heard the voice of God, but didn’t actually see him.  In books about the afterlife, many will say that God was a bright light and they felt the most empowering and magnificent love from this Source. 

If you look up all the different names for God, you will find thousands of variations depending upon the religion, culture, and belief system.  For instance, most people in America, particularly Christians, use the name ‘God.’  In the Middle East, ‘Allah’ is used by both Christians and Muslims.  And remember, Moses was told by the voice in the bush that the name we should use is “I Am That I Am” and that “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.” states, “The word ‘God’ does not appear in the original Hebrew or Greek manuscripts of the Bible. ‘God’ is an old English word which developed from an Indo-European word meaning ‘that which is invoked,’ which is also the ancestor of the German word Gott and the Danish Gud, both meaning God.”

So, does it matter who or what God is or what name we use?  I don’t think so, and I really believe it doesn’t even matter to God. 

Personally, here’s what I know about God.  I don’t ‘know’ anything.  But here’s what I ‘believe.’  It doesn’t matter the name you give to God.  It doesn’t matter the form or the gender that you give to God.  I no longer believe that God is a man sitting up in the clouds pouncing on us every time we do something someone else thinks we did wrong.  God is Love.  God is compassion.  God is all good.  God is in everyone and everything.  I also sometimes use the names Spirit, Universe, Life, or Love.  I believe that God is an all embracing source of pure, unconditional, perfect love.  God is all inclusive and loves every single one of us regardless of color, race, religion, gender, or walk of life.  God doesn’t judge or punish us and loves us regardless of who we are or what we’ve done.   Again, these are my personal beliefs and I’m certainly not going to tell anyone else what to believe.

Many people are being turned off to God, religions, and churches because they can no longer accept that God is an angry and vengeful deity who will send us to a place called hell if we don’t believe a certain way.  Instead, in their hearts and souls, they are awakening to a loving, embracing, and powerful force of love, though they may not quite know what it is or where it’s coming from.  

Jesus repeatedly declared that the kingdom of God is within.  Many religions teach this.  Sufi Proverb:  “I searched for God and found only myself.  I searched for myself and found only God.”  Swami Kriyananda:  “To find God within, is to find Him everywhere.”  Ernest Holmes: “The great spiritual geniuses, whether it was Moses, Buddha, Plato, Socrates, Jesus, or Emerson, have taught man to look within himself to find God.”  Black Elk: “At the center of the Universe dwells the Great Spirit, and that center is really everywhere.  It is within each of us.”  Rumi: “I looked in temples, churches, and mosques, but I found the Divine within my heart.”  Osho: “The first glimpse of God has to be in the innermost shrine of your heart.”  And, Ramakrishna:  “One should not think, ‘My religion alone is the right path and other religions are false.’  God can be realized by means of all paths.  It is enough to have sincere yearning for God.  Infinite are the paths and infinite the opinions.”

Therefore, let us show love and respect to everyone’s beliefs about God because when it comes right down to it, God is in all and we are all God’s children. 

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper April 29, 2016.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

An Authentic Life

The other day, I was talking to two women who found out that I was an inspirational speaker.  As we were conversing, they asked me what I spoke about, and where do I speak and do my workshops.  My main theme is to try to inspire people to love one another, to show kindness and compassion to our fellow beings, to know our magnificence, to laugh and to find ways to enjoy our lives, and to learn to count our blessings.  It’s also okay to love ourselves and to be happy!  As Marianne Williamson said, “We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

It’s been a long journey over the years of getting to the point where I could teach others what I learned for myself.  I really believe that everything I’ve been through in my life, the perceived good and bad, brought me to where I am today.  When I was young, I dreamed I would grow up to be a well-known, successful actress, as I’ve always loved the entertainment business.  (I did have a taste of it when I was acting in L.A. and Nashville.)  I also always thought I would get married and have a dozen children.  But life had other plans for me. 

In 1997, I had a breakdown and all my dreams went right out the window.  At the time, it was devastating for me.  I had started my spiritual journey several years earlier when I opened my heart and mind to all things God (by whatever name you use) had for me to learn.  I had already been reading countless books on spirituality and self-improvement, so I had a head start in learning what I needed in order to get through it.  It was a rough couple of years, but I persevered and the breakdown ended up being one of the best things to have ever happened to me.

Then Toastmasters came into my life.  There’s a great group here in Cookeville and it really helped me come out of my shell again.  During my very first speech, my hands were shaking so badly that I had to hold my fingers together so no one would notice.  I then started competing in speech contests and made it to third place at the district level.  It was during this time that I decided to pursue public speaking.  I’ve always said that I may not be acting, but I’m still entertaining only now I’m entertaining with a message (though I still miss the entertainment business).

Because I was so passionate about my spirituality and helping people, I decided to become an ordained interfaith minister.  I went on to achieve my Bachelors, Masters, and then a Doctorate of Holistic Ministry.  Since then, I’ve spoken at numerous churches in several states (Unity, Unitarian, and United Church of Cookeville), as well as at other venues, secular and religious.  Speaking has become a passion of mine and I’m very enthusiastic about teaching people to love, not only to love others, but ourselves as well.

As the ladies and I spoke further, I mentioned to them that one of the main things that keeps us from being ourselves, pursing our dreams, or saying what we really want to say is because we’re so afraid of what others may think of us.  They say that public speaking is the number one fear people have, but I say it’s not the fear of speaking, but the fear of what the audience will think of our speaking. 

How many times do we not do something or refrain from saying something because we’re so afraid of what others may think?  We end up hiding behinds these masks because we can’t be who we really want to be or who we were really meant to be.  If we could get past worrying about what others think and just be our authentic selves, think of what all we could accomplish!  And to be clear, I’m still working on not worrying about what others think and learning to be who I’m really meant to be.

Eckhart Tolle said, “Only the truth of who you are, if realized, will set you free.”  And Parker J. Palmer declared, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.  As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks, we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”  

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

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Touch, Change, Save a Life

Recently, I saw a great story on Facebook about a woman who worked in a meat distribution factory.    At the end of one day she went into the meat freezer and the door closed behind her locking her in.  She screamed and knocked, but no one heard her as most of the workers had left for the day.  Several hours later, while she was close to death, the security guard opened the door and saved her life.  Why did he check the freezer even though this wasn’t his usual routine?  He said that he had worked at the factory for 35 years, and hundreds of workers came and went each day, but she was one of the few who would greet him in the morning and say goodbye to him every night before she left work.  Many people treated him like he was invisible.  That evening, he had not heard her say good-bye.  Therefore, worried that something may have happened to her, he decided to check around the factory and thought to look in the freezer.  Every day, he would look forward to her friendly greetings because they reminded him that he was someone.  Because of her kindness to this gentleman, it literally saved her life.

Not long ago I was at work, and as I usually do, I always greet the janitorial staff and will talk to them.  One morning, one of the ladies stopped me and thanked me for always greeting her so friendly.  She had been having a bad morning and said my smile and greeting really made her feel better.

In college, I made friends with a girl and she later told me that before she met me, she was going to take her life.  All I did was become her friend.  I never knew until she told me years later.

Another time at work, an elder woman was having a really bad day so I gave her warm hug.  As I walked away, she exclaimed, “I don’t even remember the last time someone hugged me!”

At one of the elementary schools I sometimes sub at, I stand at the door where several buses drop off the kids, and I greet them all with enthusiastic greetings.  I also tell them they’re beautiful, smart, wonderful, and other positive affirmations.  When I first started doing this, I hardly got any greetings in return.  As time went on, I would get a few more.  Then I would tell the kids, “This is where you say hello back to me!”  More said hello.   Then I just started rolling my arms and they knew that I was expecting a greeting in return and almost all of them would say good morning.  I even get a few hugs!  And for those who can’t say anything, that’s fine.  How many of these children may have had a bad morning, have a rough home life, are ignored at school or elsewhere, or never have anything kind said to them at all?  If I can touch just a few, and maybe even make a difference in their lives, then I’ve done my job.

I’ll even say random hello’s to people when I’m out shopping.  Some people look shocked that anyone would say anything to them for no reason.

There are numerous stories on Facebook where people will walk around with signs that say ‘Free Hugs’ on them, and it is so heartwarming to see all the people give them hugs.  People of all colors, races, religions, politics, genders, sexual preferences, and walks of life.  It didn’t matter.  Makes me bawl a river of tears every time I see these videos.

I think back on things people have said to me about my acts of kindness touching them, and I can only wonder what I did because all I was doing was being kind.  I say this in all humility, too.  There are many stories where simple acts of kindness have touched, changed, or even saved lives.  We don’t always know when our acts of kindness may touch someone, but they do. 

We shouldn’t be kind to expect anything in return.  Smiles, kindness, and hugs, should be given freely.  Of course, we need to be aware that some people don’t want to be hugged and that needs to be respected.  We also cannot judge anyone if they don’t respond to us as we don’t know what’s happening in their lives.

Mother Teresa said, “In this life we cannot always do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”  Asop stated, “No act of kindness is ever wasted.”  And Booker T. Washington declared, “If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.”  Be kind and touch a life.  

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

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Fashions, Cultures, & Religions

Fashions over the years sure have changed. When I was in high school, I remember that I would get made fun of if my mini-skirts weren’t short enough.  Bell bottoms and hip-huggers were the rage.  Fashions and fads were changing faster than I could keep up with.  Those were the days when the kids would pretty much wore the same styles of clothing, and if you didn’t, then you just weren’t cool.

The generations before me also had their own styles for their times.  You can Google them to see just how much they have changed over the years.  One thing I love about today’s times is that people can wear whatever they want and it’s rare you will find anyone wearing the exact same thing. 

Modesty in clothing has changed over the years as well.  We go through times where women have to keep everything covered up, and then there are other times where showing a lot of skin in various places is perfectly acceptable. 

Men have had it a little easier in that wearing suits and ties has been the style for decades, though the material of the suits have changed, as well as the length and width of ties.  Like women’s clothing, men’s casual wear has also changed throughout the years.

Where does clothing and styles come in with regard to religions and cultures?  Again, depending on the religion, culture, and era, they all have their own traditional clothing that they wear, either required or because it’s what they feel comfortable wearing.

To give you an idea of what some people from various religions wear, I did some research on the Internet.  (I’m hoping all the information I present is accurate.  Remember, these are only some examples and that what is worn is based on many factors, even within a particular religion or sect.)  For instance:

Buddhist monks wear robes of various colors based on the region and tradition. 

Traditional nuns wear habits covering the whole body except for the face. 

Orthodox Jewish women cover their hair and wear skirts below their knees. Orthodox men typically wear long black garments, and some grow long beards and wear wide-brim black hats. They may also wear curls on the sides of their heads. 

Sikh’s spiritual clothing includes a turban and modest attire and they wear their hair uncut.
Mormon Missionaries (full-time) wear modest clothing and plain hairstyles.  Women wear either blouses with skirts or dresses that cover the knee.  Men must wear business suits.  Mormons in general also wear modest clothing.

Amish wear plain clothing they made themselves.  Males wear broad-brimmed black hats, dark-colored suits, suspenders, solid-colored shirts, and black socks and shoes. After they marry, the men must grow beards, but they are prohibited from having mustaches.  Females wear bonnets, long dresses, shawls, and black shoes and stockings.  They also never cut their hair, which is worn in a bun, and they are not allowed to wear jewelry of any kind. 

In Christianity, the clothing styles vary depending on the denomination and culture, and can range anywhere from the very modest to wearing anything. 

Muslims generally observe modest dress, but the variety of styles and colors vary depending on the country and culture, and whether they are wearing the clothing in public or private.  As in many other religions, women may wear some form of head covering, as well as some men for different reasons. 

In many religions, women in particular cover their head with either a bonnet, scarf, or other covering.  If you search for pictures of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, you will find that in every picture, she had some form of scarf covering her head; therefore, women have covered their heads throughout history in numerous religions. 

As you can see, this is just a snippet of all the various religions and what they wear or how they look, and they should all be respected and not be judged.  Many from these religions are also following passages from their holy books in regard to what they wear. 

I love the diversity of our religions and whatever the people from a particular religion may wear.  For me, it doesn’t matter one iota what a person wears because of their religion.  It’s what makes us all wonderful and unique.  Anthon St. Maarten said, “We are not supposed to all be the same, feel the same, think the same, and believe the same.  The key to continued expansion of our Universe lies in diversity, not in conformity and coercion.”  And Maya Angelou stated, “We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”

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