Sunday, July 22, 2012

Releasing Our Inner Prisoners

Recently, I read a great book titled “Along the Way ~ The Journey of a Father and Son” by actor Martin Sheen and his son Emilio Estevez. In it, Mr. Sheen stated the following:

“We wind up in cells of our own making when we’re not generous, loving, compassionate, and forgiving.  Without love, we build dungeons in our hearts and fill them with our perceived enemies.  We believe they deserve to be there for the harm they caused us, but by imprisoning them we’re destroying our own spirits.  When our dungeons are overflowing with these prisoners we refuse to set free, we become slaves to our self-righteousness, our anger, resentments, and self-loathing, which we let multiply until we wind up imprisoned on our own death row.”

What a wonderful quote!  You could say this quote is about forgiveness.  When we don’t forgive, we hold everyone who harmed us in some way in a figurative dungeon deep within our being. But it’s not just about forgiveness or those who harmed us.  It’s holding anyone we hold negative thoughts and feelings towards whether it’s feelings of hate, anger, bigotry, and so on.  Many in our religions and politics of today propagate much of this and that’s very sad.

As the above quote states, without love, we keep adding those who we perceive to have harmed us, in that dark abyss within.  The negativity in that inner dungeon will eventually eat away at us, affecting our health either physically, mentally, emotionally, and/or spiritually.

The problem is, when we keep others imprisoned, we also imprison our own hearts and minds right along with them.  All those negative feelings towards others continue to build up.  The more people and situations we hold in that inner cell, the more crowded it gets.  Because we’re there right along with them, that dirty cell starts to wear on our health and sanity, and eventually possibly even shortens our life spans.   As Mr. Sheen states, we end up putting ourselves on a metaphorical death row. 

It really does come down to what we do to others, we do to ourselves.  What we reap, we sow.  We’ve all heard the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  We seem to have forgotten this.  Most all religions teach some form of the Golden Rule.  A few are:

Buddhism:  “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Christianity:  “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” 

Confucianism:  “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.  Then there will be no resentment against you, either in the family or in the state.” 

Hinduism:  “This is the sum of duty; do naught onto others what you would not have them do unto you.”

Islam:  “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.” 

Judaism:  “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man.  This is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary.” 

Taoism:  “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” 

The way we treat others is a mirror image of the way we feel about ourselves.  The words we speak (as well as our actions) are more of a reflection on us and the kind of person we are than the people who we’re speaking the unkind words towards. 

We can release others, as well as ourselves, from that dark dungeon within by not only forgiving, but by also becoming more loving, compassionate, and kind.  Those are the keys to releasing those we hold prisoners within our hearts and minds.  Those are the keys that will help us to find peace.  Peace Pilgrim said, “When you find peace within yourself, you become the kind of person who can live at peace with others.” 

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Isn’t it about time we drive out the darkness and hate and replace it with light and love?  The only way we can change others is to change ourselves.  As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

Let’s clean out our inner dungeons and free the prisoners held in our hearts and minds.  Set them free for it is only when we release those inner prisoners that we will be able to release ourselves.  Only you have the key, and only you can release.  And being free is a wonderful thing!

(Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen July 20, 2012.)


Friday, July 6, 2012

Delays Can Be a Good Thing!

Many times, we find ourselves in situations where life really tries our patience.  Standing in long lines, driving in slow traffic, getting hung up at work, and so on.  Most of us get really frustrated and may even make a comment or two.  Some will get irate and try to move things along a little faster.  Patience is a virtue; I just wish we didn’t have to practice it so much.

We never know why we’re being delayed.  A good example is something that happened to me many years ago.  I was getting ready to leave work and at the last minute, I had to stay about 15 minutes extra. On the way home, I decided to stop and get my car washed. Then I hit every light through town.  As I got half-way up the mountain, a police officer had traffic stopped and it was going to be awhile. There had been an accident up a ways and they were turning people around. I had to drive for miles on an unfamiliar back road to take the detour back home.  What I found out later was the accident was just near where I turned off to go home and that a three year old child had been killed. The accident happened about the exact same time that I would have been going around that curve. Now, did the delay save my life? Did it keep me from seeing something really horrible? I don't know how I could have dealt with seeing the death of a child (or anyone). Or blood. Or someone's life ripped apart.

What I learned from this is that I now never question delays or get upset when they occur.  Sure, I can still get really antsy if it’s going to cause me to be late, but I try to breathe deep relaxing breathes and remember that the delay may be saving me from something horrible.  On the other hand, the delay could be occurring so that I can meet up with something or someone really wonderful!

How many get irritated if they have to pull over for a long funeral procession?   At least it’s not you or a loved in the casket.  Stopped by an accident?  Again, it’s not you or a loved one in the accident.  We heard countless stories of 9/11 where people were delayed getting to work that morning and their lives were spared because of the delay.  When you’re delayed, count your blessings!

We can make the choice to get really upset and make our life miserable as well as everyone around us, or we can make the best of it.  Catch up on phone calls, read, sing, dance; whatever you have to do to get through it.  Or you can do what motivational speaker/comedian Loretta LaRoche did when she found herself stranded on an airplane which had been delayed on the tarmac.  Everyone was getting upset and tempers were flaring.  What did she do?  She started singing out loud, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands…!”  Next thing she knew everyone on the plane was singing with her and they had a great time until the plane was able to take off.  (To be honest, she had a lot more guts than I would have had.  Or maybe not.)

Sometimes when I find myself getting frustrated in a situation, I compare it with something really horrible that could be happening to me instead.  It snaps me out of it and I appreciate that it’s just a small inconvenience.  If you time the delays, they’re really not that long; maybe a few minutes (unless it really is a long delay).  It just seems longer when you’re waiting.

No matter where we go or what we do, we'll always have to wait. Besides, my attitude is that it's not cancer, it's not war, I have my health, I live in the wonderful country of America...what's waiting a few minutes?  On occasion, I've told people in line this, and they were amazed at my attitude! It also really helps the clerk who is trying to do the best s/he can.

The next time you find yourself being delayed for whatever reason, try to trust and believe that there is a bigger picture. Bless the moment.  And be grateful that it’s only a small burp on this journey called life.

I will leave you with a few quotes on patience…  St. Augustine: “Patience is the companion of wisdom.”  Muhammad: “Wisdom and power follow endurance and patience.” And, Sir William Osler:  “What is patience but an equanimity which enables you to rise superior to the trials of life.”

(Published in the Cookeville Herald Citizen newspaper June 6, 2012.)