Saturday, January 24, 2015

Five Wise Agreements

Numerous years ago, I came across a book that really made a strong impact on me and really helped me in my day-to-day dealings with others as well as with myself.  I first heard about it while reading one of Oprah’s magazines where she interviewed Ellen DeGeneres.  Ellen was talking about this book and how it made such a huge difference in her life.  A day or two later, I received my book club packet and the book was on sale.  Because of that serendipity, I knew I was to read the book.

This wonderful gem of a book is called The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz.  Later he and his son, don Jose Ruiz, wrote another book titled “The Fifth Agreement.”   When I learned to practice these Five Agreements, I found that they made my life so much easier in the long run.  These are the Agreements:

“Be Impeccable with your Word ~Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.”

Thoughts have power.  Not only those thoughts we think to ourselves, but those we put into words towards others.  Are we using our words to lift others up, or tear them down?  Those include the thoughts we think towards ourselves.  I can beat myself up worse than anyone put together.   Thoughts can become our reality, so we need to be mindful of the thoughts we think.  I love the saying “You may not be able to stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop it from building a nest.”  This is the same with our thoughts.  If a negative thought occurs, it’s up to us what to do with it, and we can turn it around into something positive whether it’s a though in our mind, or something we speak towards others.

When it comes to gossip, anyone who knows me well enough knows that I despise gossip.  If someone starts people bashing, I will immediately stick up for that person or group of people, change the subject, or leave the conversation.  Gossip is poison and it reflects more on the person doing the gossiping than the person or people they are gossiping about or bashing. 

“Don’t Take Anything Personally ~ Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

I used to take everything personally.  If someone didn’t react the way I thought they should, I would wonder why they were treating me that way, if they were mad at me, or why they didn’t like me.  In reality, not everyone is going to like us for whatever reasons.  There have been people in my life who were determined not to like me no matter how nice or kind I was to them, and it would make me more determined to make them like me.  I finally had to realize that it had nothing to do with me.  They were only projecting their own life issues onto me, so I blessed them and let them go.  When I worked with these same people every day, I had to learn to just send them love and go about doing my job.

I also learned that it really isn’t any of my business what other people think of me.  If I did something to hurt someone’s feelings or make them mad, then of course I would take responsibility and apologize.  Beyond that, I had to learn to let it go.  Rev. Terry Cole-Whittaker wrote a great book titled “What You Think of Me is None of My Business,” which I would also highly recommend reading. 

Don’t Make Assumptions ~ Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.”

It is so easy for us to make assumptions.  If an assumption crosses our mind, we can ask “Do I know this for a fact?”  Most times, we don’t, and even then facts aren’t always clear.  If I think there was a misunderstanding or if someone might be upset with me, I ask them.  Sometimes I have to work up a lot of courage to ask, but it’s better to find out than to fume over what could be nothing, and most of the time, it is nothing but a misunderstanding.

“Always Do Your Best ~ Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”

You can only do the best you can with what you know at the time.  That goes for everyone.  Your best is based on your upbringing, beliefs, experiences, etc.  We never know a person’s state of mind.  It also makes it easier not to judge people because you realize they were only doing the best they could with what they knew. We have to remember that everyone has a story, and we don’t always see the bigger picture.

When we’re not feeling well or we’re feeling negative, it’s easy not to do what we think was our best, but we still did the best we could at that time. Once you understand this agreement for yourself and others, you can find compassion and understanding, and not be so judgmental.  As Oprah says, “If you could do better, you would do better.”

“Be Skeptical, but Learn to Listen ~ Don’t believe yourself or anybody else. Use the power of doubt to question everything you hear: Is it really the truth? Listen to the intent behind the words, and you will understand the real message.”

This is the Fifth Agreement.  Relatively speaking, truth is an illusion.  What do I mean by that?  The same truth can be different to different people.  Ask ten witnesses at an accident what happened, and you can get ten different answers.  At one time, it was believed that the earth was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.  This was their truth at that time.  Today, we know this isn’t so.  There are many things that were known as truth at one time, and that truth changed.  Just think about religion and politics where everyone in those realms believe theirs is the only truth, and yet everyone disagrees with the other.  So, who is right and who is wrong?

I’ve learned to just keep an open mind in all things because I know that my own truth changes as I learn and become more knowledgeable and enlightened.  What I believe now is just my truth at this time in my life.  That’s why I won’t argue with people about anything either.  You can’t argue a person’s truth because to them, they believe theirs is the only truth.

Practicing these Five Agreements have drastically changed my life for the better.  I’ve learned to have so much more love, compassion, and kindness not only for others, but for myself. 

don Migel Ruiz says “You don’t need to change the world; you need to change yourself.”  And Gandhi stated “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  Practicing these Five Agreements is a good start.  We can only change the world, by changing ourselves first. 

(“The Four Agreements” Copyright ©1997 by Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D.  “The Fifth Agreement” Copyright ©2010 by Miguel Angel Ruiz, M.D., Jose Luis Ruiz, and Janet Mills.  Both books:  All rights reserved. Published by Amber-Allen Publishing, Inc., San Rafael, CA, U.S.A.)

Published in the Putnam County Visions Magazine January/February 2015 issue.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Awaken Your Heart

“Love is life’s great secret.  It transcends fear and isolation, guiding you beyond the shadows of sentiment, to the shores of boundless being.  Love endures not from words or feelings alone, but from actions that carry you beyond the interests of separate self, beyond reason or motive, to embrace all people, things, and circumstances.  Loving-kindness begins in little ways, in moments of insight and humility, in your soul’s longing for love’s communion, which waits just on the other side of your heart’s doorway.  You are not here to contact your higher self; you are here to become it.” 

The above was from one of my favorite authors, Dan Millman, in his book “Everyday Enlightenment:  The Twelve Gateways to Personal Growth,” which I highly recommend reading.

We talk a lot about love, but do we really know what love is?  I’m talking about the pure, unconditional, perfect love of God / Spirit / Universe / Life itself!  Many people will say they love certain people, but do they really?  Yes, we do to a certain extent.  But many of those times, we put conditions on that love.  “I will love you if….”  Those “if’s” usually mean getting something in return even if it is just that person loving us back.  Unconditional love is loving someone without expecting anything in return.  Easy?  It should be, but we humans make it very difficult. 

Many of those conditions we put on our love include needing the person to think like we do, look like we do, believe the way we do, and fit our expectations of the way we think they should be, do, and act.  If any of these don’t meet our expectations, then that love becomes conditional.  Loving unconditionally, the way God loves us, means loving and accepting someone just as they are. 

Most important of all, we do not love ourselves unconditionally.  I know that’s a tough one for me, though I’ve been learning more and more just how extremely important that is because until we can love ourselves unconditionally, we cannot love others unconditionally.

There are times when I feel so much unconditional love for everyone and everything in the world that I feel I could just burst wide open in a state of loving bliss!  And then there are other times that feel like I could turn my back on all of humanity because of all the human nonsense I see and hear.  At least I know that feeling of loving bliss and it gives me something to strive for more and more.

One thing that helps me is to do random acts of kindness for anyone and everyone I encounter.  For it is when I am giving that love that I feel that I am the most loving, not only towards others, but towards myself.  We feel good when we help others to feel good.  When we lift others up, we lift up ourselves.  And that is a wonderful feeling!

It’s time that we awaken our hearts to know that we are loved by God beyond measure!  We are the best there is and it has nothing to do with anyone else!  We were created to be magnificent, beautiful, fabulous, and miraculous beings!  Genesis 1:26 says “Let us make mankind in our image and in our likeness.”  Not in a physical sense, but in the essence of the All-That-Is.  Do you know how glorious and extraordinary that makes us?  Now if we could just believe it and live it! 

I’ve shared with you one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson before, but I’d like to share it with you again, and if you will, really take the words into your heart.  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. 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. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

Again, as it says in the quote by Dan Millman, “You are not here to contact your higher self; you are here to become it.”  All we need to do is awaken our hearts, believe it, and it is so.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper January 16, 2015.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Which Energy Are You Feeding?

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.  “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil.  He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good.  He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” 

There has been a great spiritual awakening occurring, not only within ourselves, but in the world, and it seems that two forces are fighting against each other.  These two forces may have the appearance of light/good/right vs. dark/bad/wrong.  This is sometimes called a dichotomy meaning a division or contrast between two things that are represented as being opposed or entirely different.

Life is full of dichotomies but these are actually good things.  If we didn’t know dark/bad/wrong, then we wouldn’t know light/good/right and vise versa.  As human beings, we have to know or experience one in order to know or experience the other. 

Spiritually, let’s look at these energies as just light and darkness.  The light is filled with joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  The darkness is filled with anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.  We all have a little bit of all this within us at one time or another.  But we have choices.  As in the story of the two wolves, we can choose which one we are going to feed.

If you look at America and world events, it seems that it’s just been in recent years that we are seeing so much more negativity everywhere:  politics, religion, education, government, healthcare, and so on.  Everything that isn’t working in our lives and in our world is coming to light so that we can see it and do something to make it better.  Like a cut finger that gets infected, we have to see the pus come to the surface before we can cleanse and heal it.

The good news is that there is so much more light occurring in the world!  The sad thing is that we’re just not hearing about it in the media.  Remember, most of the media loves the darkness and feeds off the negative energies because that’s how they make their money, and many of them will even add fuel to the fire with lies and exaggerations to keep it going and maybe even make it worse all for the sake of news.

But please know that the light is actually expanding so much brighter because so many people are starting to get it.  They know that love, compassion, hope, truth, and kindness are the answer and they’re doing what they can to make a wonderful difference in our world.  People are changing the world for the better, and I totally believe that it is going to get better.  Each of us, as individuals and our world as a whole, are diamonds in the rough and we’re feeling the chipping, sanding, and polishing to make us the diamonds we really are. 

Those who feed the darkness are fighting harder to keep that energy alive and that’s one reason it seems we’re seeing so much more chaos.  The darkness is fighting to stay dark, but the light is always greater than the darkness.  Remember, darkness is only the absence of light so as our light expands, the darkness disappears.

The Bible says that we are the light of the world.  We all have that light within us, yet so many have had that light dimmed or seemingly covered up completely because of what they were taught and what they experienced in life.  But it’s still there waiting to shine forth. 

Marianne Williamson said, “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”  So as we go into the New Year, let’s try to make a conscious effort to feed the energy of love and all that is good.  By doing so, we will create the world we wish to see and maybe, just maybe, we can create world peace.

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper January 9, 2015.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Appreciating Others

Having an attitude of gratitude for everything we have in our lives is very rewarding because when we are in a state of gratefulness, the better our outlook on life and we tend to have a more optimist attitude not only for ourselves, but for the world around us.  When you look for the good, the more good you will find. 

We know how important this is when finding things to appreciate that matter to our own everyday lives, but what about the appreciation we show for others?  When was the last time you let someone know how much you appreciate them or said thank you for all they do?  When was the last time you even said the words ‘thank you?’ 

There are so many people who show up in our lives, who have done a service or a kind deed, and we need to show our appreciation, not just towards those individuals, but towards groups of people.  There are a couple of groups, out of many, whom I would like to show my appreciation in this article.  One is towards first responders.  This can include law enforcement, EMT’s, firefighters, our military, and anyone else who puts their lives on the line to be of service to humanity. 

Currently, all law enforcement is taking a hard hit because of the harm a few officers have done to others.  Of course, when anyone harms anyone, they do need to be held accountable.  But there are many, many more who do so much good in the world and who help so many people.  These are human beings who care and just want to be of service.  They never know when that one day will be that don’t make it home to their families.  They’re constantly on guard and have to make split second decisions to decide if someone has a gun and/or is going to cause harm.  So, to all law enforcement….I thank you!

Firefighters are another group that are under-appreciated.  Some get paid and others serve on a volunteer basis.  Again, they never know when they might get caught in a fire, be burned, or not make it home to their families.  They risk their lives to save others, including our beloved pets, and our belonging.  To all firefighters…I thank you!

EMT’s and other emergency personal also risk their lives to help people.  They save lives through medical procedures until they can get the victims to the hospital.  Many citizens belong to groups that respond to emergency events by volunteering their time.  To all emergency responders…I thank you!

Our military personnel are also doing a service to our country for little pay, and risking their lives to help keep America safe.  To all our military personnel…I thank you!
All the above groups see things and deal with things no one should ever have to see or deal with.  After seeing horrific events, they then try to be with their families and go about their day.  It’s tough on all of them. 

Another group that needs our appreciation is our teachers.  Until I started subbing in the schools, I didn’t have a clue what teachers were dealing with.  It’s not like it was even a generation ago.  I gained a whole new appreciation for what they deal with on a day-to-day basis.  They don’t just work 8:00 to 3:00 as most people think.  They work evenings, weekends, on their vacations, and many will spend their own money for their students.  So, to all teachers….I thank you.

There are many other groups that need our appreciation as well and you can add your own.  Of course, there are many in any profession who need to be weeded out because they’re not doing a good job or they may be causing harm to others.  But let’s not hold what those do against the whole. 

How can we show our appreciation?  Saying thank you, sending a card, and giving flowers or gifts are a just few of many ways.  When you give the gift of appreciation, you not only make the other person feel good, it also makes you feel good, too.

Voltaire said “Appreciation is a wonderful thing.  It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.”  Randy Pausch stated “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other.”

And to all my readers, I’d like to say thank you for your love, support, and encouragement, and I appreciate you!

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper December 19, 2014.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Stop and Smell the Roses

“Hey Mister, where you going in such a hurry; Don't you think it's time you realized; There's a whole lot more to life than work and worry; All the sweetest things in life are free; And they're right before your eyes.

Before you went to work this morning in the city; Well, did you spend some time with your family; Did you kiss your wife and tell her that she's pretty; Did you take your children to your breast and love 'em tenderly.

Well, did you ever take a walk through the forest; Stop and dream a while among the trees; Well, you can look up through the leaves right straight to heaven; And you can almost hear the voice of God in each any every breeze.

Oh, you've got to stop and smell the roses; You've got to count your many blessings everyday; You're gonna find your way to heaven is a rough and rocky road; If you don't stop and smell the roses along the way.”  (Written by Mac Davis and Carl Severinsen; Published by EMI Music Publishing.)

The above is one of my favorite songs from one of my favorite entertainers, Mac Davis.  It’s been a long time since I’ve heard this beautiful song, but the words ring just as true for me today as they did back then.  What was interesting was that while I was watching TV and trying to come up with topics to write about, including this one, at that exact moment someone on a TV show said “you have to stop and smell the roses.” it. 

So many times in our lives, we get bogged down by so many things.  We think they’re the big things, but I really think they’re all the little things that keep adding up.  Let’s admit it, the big things don’t happen that often, but the little things are almost every day.  Some have the attitude of ‘when it rains, it pours’ or they’ll affirm Murphy’s Law ‘if anything can go wrong, it will.’  Anyone who is familiar with the power of our thoughts knows that if we have that attitude, then yes, bad things will continue to happen because we tend to get what we expect. 

I’d like to offer another option.  How about if we stop and smell the roses?  Literally and figuratively.  Think instead ‘if anything can go right, it will!’  Or, ‘when it rains, it pours so many good things in my life.’  There is so much good that happens every day if we will just look and notice, and once you get in the habit of noticing all the good, big or small, the more you will notice.  When I look outside my window or when I drive to work, I’m so grateful for the beauty of nature.  I thank the trees, the clouds, the critters, the flowers and everything else for being in my world.  I’m grateful that I do have some work to help pay the bills, that I have a car that runs, a roof over my head, a warm bed to sleep in, food to eat, clothes to wear….  There are many who don’t even have any of these. 

Another thing I do is to mentally tell everyone and everything I see that it’s beautiful.  “Hello, beautiful tree!  Hello, beautiful bush!  Hello, beautiful mailbox!  Hello, beautiful person!”  You’d be surprised how changing your perspective to seeing everything as beautiful can change your outlook on life and the way you see your world!

Yes, there is a lot of ugliness in the world when it comes to people harming one another, war, poverty, hunger…  That doesn’t have to be the reality that we focus on, though.  That also doesn’t mean we ignore the ‘ugly’ as we should always keep trying to make the world a better place.  But when we see more beauty than ugly, then we have something to strive for because we see how beautiful the world can be.  We will create what we believe.

Therefore, as we go about our day, let’s practice by stopping and smelling the roses.  Look for the good and the beautiful in everyone and everything.  We can start with our family and friends, and then extend it outwards to people in our everyday lives.  Find something loving and kind to say to them even if it’s just a simple compliment or a smile.  Brighten someone’s day with the beauty of your own magnificent soul and let your light shine! 

Confucius said, “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  And Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper December 12, 2014.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Letter from a Prisoner

At one time, I was corresponding with a convict in a prison.  He seemed to be sorry for whatever put him there and really wanted to change his life around.  We were both concerned about children and the state of the world.  So many children, from little ones to young adults, are suffering in the worst ways.  Many come from broken homes, feel unloved and unwanted, are desperate for love and a sense of belonging, and many will do anything to fill that need.  Some will join gangs to feel accepted, some will commit crimes, many drop out of school, some run away, and some will commit acts of violence where lives are taken.

I asked this gentleman if he would be interested in writing a letter to our children, which he happily did.  I never had the opportunity to share it, so I would like to do so now.  I hope this letter will help those of any age who are thinking about making a wrong choice in life and that they will know that all choices have a consequence.  And if you know a child who is hurting, who is one of the desperate ones, maybe you can become a mentor, show him/her that you care, and help him/her to live a good and positive life.  Sometimes all it takes is for one person to make a difference in their lives.  In the meantime, here is the prisoner’s letter: 

"As I write this, I am sitting inside a fence at a large prison facility.  I am not going to try to lecture you or tell you how you should live your life.  That decision is yours and yours alone.  Have you ever heard the saying, “I’ve been there and done that?”  Well, I have been there and done that, and that is why I am writing this.  Hopefully, what I say will mean something because I am speaking from experience.

One of the most important tools you are going to need to face the world is a good education.  I dropped out of school in the eighth grade, and even though I later got my GED and some college credits, I still regret not completing high school.  Though you may think your teachers, parents, and others who try to help you may not care about you…they do.  The advice they try to give you is based on both their experiences and the fact that they do care about what happens to you.  The first piece of advice I want to give you is to get an education.

I was like a lot of you when I was growing up.  I thought I was the coolest and toughest thing on two feet.  I also thought I knew it all and nobody could tell me anything.  Looking back over the years, I now realize that I was a total jerk, a loser, and I really didn’t know anything.  I also wish I would have listened to the many people who tried to help me along the way.

The old story about being from a broken home, or growing up in a bad environment, is the reason for me messing up, and it is a bunch of crap.  My parents divorced when I was twelve years old and I grew up in the projects in Pennsylvania.  We had very little to eat most of the time, and besides rummaging through trash cans for clothes that others discarded, I also resorted to stealing in order to have the things I thought I needed to be cool.  That isn’t why I ended up where I am today, though, or why I have spent so much of my life in prison.  I am here because, I, and I alone, made the wrong choices in life.  Nobody held a gun to my head and made me do anything.  That is the second piece of advice I want to give you.  Always be willing to take responsibility for your own actions.

I thought it was cool to get drunk all the time, get high on drugs, raise hell, and have a good time with the ladies.  Sure it was fun.  Or so I thought at the time.  For everything we do in this life, there is a price, and I am paying that price now.  There is nothing more precious than your freedom.  The freedom to go where you want, when you want, and to do what you want.  My every movement is controlled in this place.  I am told when I can eat, when I can take a shower, what time to go to bed and get up, and when to go to work.  In the thirteen years since I have been locked up, I have only seen my family three times.  I have a son who was born shortly after I got locked up that I have only seen eight or nine times.  He is presently in foster care and I don’t even know where he is.  I cannot send him letters, a birthday card, Christmas card, or anything.  Although I love him very much, he probably feels I do not.

As far as prison itself….  The best words I could probably come up with is that it sucks.  It is true that many of us have our own television, radio, and so forth, but none of the “goodies” we have can make up for what we don’t have, and what we have to endure in here.  No matter how tough you think you are there is always someone trying to prove he is tougher.  Every day you live on the edge.  You have to worry about defending what you have because there is always someone wanting to take it from you.  You have people in here who will kill you just for looking at them the wrong way.  If you are black, you have the pressures of being forced into a gang, and even the gang members are not safe.  If you are white, you are constantly on your guard against the other gangs because most of the gang members see you as just another white dude who is part of the system they feel put them here.  And there are other gangs of various races.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are a lot of good white, black, and other races in here, but they are in the minority.

You can never let your feelings or emotions show because at the first sign of weakness, the so-called tough guys will be on you like white on rice.  I am fifty-five years old and I am very capable of taking care of myself, but there is not a moment that I let my guard down.  You have to watch everybody, even your so-called friends, because even they will take advantage of you if you let them.

Do you think I am still cool and tough?  Only within my own mind because the reality is, the really cool people are those on the outside of this place.  The cool ones are those who can work where they want, enjoy their time off with their families and friends, go to sleep at night possibly holding their partner, instead of a pillow for comfort.  The cool ones are like you, the people who have a choice of what they want to do with their life, and not have someone else tell them what they are going to do. 

I regret my past life with every ounce of my being, but I cannot change any of it.  If I could, I would do it in a heartbeat.  I have twelve months left until I get out of here, and I am counting the days until I can again be like you…free and able to enjoy life on the outside.

Whether anything I said in this letter matters to you or not is up to you.  If you do not care about your life, and you do not want to listen to the people who care about you and are trying to help you, that’s fine.  They have a bed waiting right here for you.  The one thing you never have to worry about is the system running out of beds.  They might even let me out early so that they can give my bed to someone who doesn’t give a heck about their life.  I hope that someone isn’t you.

People can bend over backwards to teach you, but only you can learn."

Published in the Putnam County Visions magazine December 2014 issue.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Holidays Are Coming!

It’s that time of year, folks!  Holiday season!  Anyone remember when the Christmas season didn’t begin until after Thanksgiving?  You wouldn’t even see Christmas commercials on TV, Christmas shows or movies, or decorations in the stores until after Thanksgiving Day.  Today, some stores start putting out their Christmas decorations and items at the beginning of fall if not before!  They may as well keep the Christmas items out all year long because Christmas season just keeps getting longer and longer and it’s become all about the commercialism.

I love the Spirit of the holiday season and seeing all the colorful decorations.  People tend to be a little nicer to each other and we feel a little more joyful.  Various groups and organizations make large feasts for the homeless and hungry, toys are gathered for children in need, and we donate a little more towards various charities.  I just wish we could do this all year long rather than just one month of the year.

It seems that in recent years, the Christmas season in particular has taken on a life of its own.  People start fighting and arguing over what greeting to say; whether we should say Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays.  If someone doesn’t receive the greeting they think they should get, they take it personally and get upset.  Some smart off at the other person and then complain that their greeting and/or religious holiday is under attack.  Personally, I’m just happy that anyone says anything to me because there have been so many times that people have completely ignored me when I said hello and walk by me like I’m not even there.  So if you see me, I’ll embrace whatever greeting you say to me!

People also fight and argue over which religious holiday displays should be publicly shown and if the display is not of their religion, then people get in an uproar.  I love the diversity of our religious holidays and would be happy to learn of other holiday and cultural customs!  They don’t offend me at all!  And let’s not even talk about fighting in the stores especially during the Black Friday early morning sales!

There are numerous religious holidays in December and I honor and respect all of them.  Some of them are Hanukkah, Christmas, Bodhi Day, Kwanzaa, Yule, Immaculate Conception of Mary, Feast Day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I’m sure there are others that I missed.
The Spirit of the holiday season should be of love, peace, compassion, kindness, family, friends, and celebrating with each other.  When we are secure in our beliefs, we do not feel threatened by other holiday traditions, and we have no need to force our own on anyone else. 

Jesus was one example of being the epitome of unconditional love for all people.  I can’t think of a greater way to honor him than to show love and respect to my fellow travelers in this life, to embrace the diversity of their holidays, and to do so with respect.  If we want to honor the spiritual masters of our religions, then we should do so by honoring and respecting others and their right to celebrate their holidays in peace.

If you really want to discover your core beliefs about your holiday, then don’t decorate, don’t put up a tree, don’t take your children to see Santa, don’t give gifts or go to parties, don’t put up any displays, and don’t eat holiday food.  When you strip away all the symbols, commercialism, and celebrations, you may find out your true beliefs.  And if you believe in the true Spirit of your holiday, then you will find that none of those things matter.  But we should also rejoice that we do have the freedom to celebrate our holidays in any way we choose as long as those beliefs are not being forced on anyone else. 

I totally believe that our religious holidays should have the foundation of unconditional love for all regardless of whose holiday it is.  If we could all show love towards each other during the holiday season, then we can really say, “Peace on Earth, good will towards men” and mean it.

Hamilton Wright Mabie said, “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!”  And when it comes to Christmas, Calvin Coolidge stated, “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper November 28, 2014.