This is a very unusual, touchingly beautiful video presentation, featuring the singer, Sissel, singing Auld Lang Syne with a collage of stunning winter scenery and breathtaking mountain views combined with nature videography of animals in winter settings. Beautiful prayers for the new year begin and end this lovely tribute. Wishing all a Happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2016!
"The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems." ~Mahatma Gandhi
This piece is an homage to the awe-inspiring friends who make a difference every day by choosing the path of love and service. They are ordinary, everyday people doing extraordinary, miraculous things. They look fear and loss in the eye and spit in it, choosing instead to use their creative talents and gifts to perform a sort of spiritual alchemy that has incredible power to transmute despairing into caring, and chaos into peace. They do this by choosing the expansive path of love and service over the contracting one of fear and limitation. They do this every day. So can we all.
The friends I'm speaking of come from all walks of life: a nurse, a poet, a fiction writer/yoga teacher, a spiritual healer, a retired teacher, a singer, a flight attendant. They are the unsung heroes (or sheroes) who know the secret of life -- choosing love one moment at a time.
The news of Robin Williams' death hit me with the impact of a double-hoofed kick in the solar plexus. I felt such a depth of sadness at his bright, incredible talent being silenced by the demon of depression. It's incomprehensible. As the shock waves washed over me, I thought about the duality of the human spirit: its vulnerable frailties and its equally amazing strengths. We are all caught in a raging sea of human need brought to us each day by the media in a vast array of war, poverty, hatred, intolerance and greed. If one focused only on the horrible news of the day, it would be easy to surrender to fear and curl up into a shivering little ball of misery. But the human spirit has this deep innate resilience. And hope is hard to kill. Thankfully!
For all the tragedies and human suffering that are on display seemingly everywhere you look, there are also tender-hearted, generous, breathtaking instances of people who are moving through the impacts of life circumstances to bring forth their own miraculous talents in service to the screaming need of others. Let me give you a few examples of several inspiring friends who are doing just that:
First, there's Wendy, a nurse who has lived through numerous challenges including losing almost everything in a house fire, and surviving some very tough health issues. Yet she is not only surviving, but thriving. She is leaving on a mission trip to Arua, Uganda today to bring her medical knowledge and her compassionate heart, along with 5-gallon buckets filled with hospice supplies to teach those caring for the dying how to practice good hygiene and comfort care. Wendy is one shining example of someone who has transformed the pain of loss into the path of service. She rocks as a shero in my book! If you would like more information about the Bucket Project Hospice Kits, as part of the Baptist Global Relief program, you can find it here:
Another friend who is answering the creative call is Pamela. She is currently sharing the amusing and inspiring story of her spiritual journey through her multimedia one-woman theatrical presentation, called "Confessions of a Spiritually Promiscuous Woman", and her new book, Confessions of a Passionate Seeker: Bridging the Gap from Ego to Essence, and in her speaking engagements around the country. Pamela is a whirlwind of creative talent and energy who has shared her gifts with many through establishing empowering women's groups called Women of Wisdom, her two Higher Tea books and the Blueprint for the Human Spirit. Her journey continues to touch lives and inspire. Her website can be found here: www.PamelaGerali.com
Yet another friend, Shannon Danford, brings lightness and wickedly funny humor to others through her Blues series of books set in SW Florida. She creates totally outrageous characters and places them in hilarious situations which could, or might still, happen and releases her own inimitable witty/ironic style in the process. She actually offers a laughter dare/guarantee for her work. I couldn't read them without laughing out loud so often my husband came to check and see what I was doing! Yup, another shero! So if you need some laughter in your life, check out her books here: http://www.mamasluckymojo.com/ or here: http://www.sandmanbooks.com/florida-authors/danford-shannon-florida-author.html
Heather McHugh is a friend of a friend whom I originally met at the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers, in North Carolina years ago where I was working and she was teaching. Heather is a poet, a translator, an educator and a shero who has touched countless lives through her deeply insightful and inspiring poetry. She has won awards too numerous to list (You can visit her Wikipedia page here). In 2009, Heather was awarded the prestigious MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Grant for her dazzling body of work. Yet rather than simply basking in the honor and accolades, Heather chose to take the award money and use it along with her own resources to launch the non-profit Caregifted.org which provides respite getaways for weary long-term caregivers. But Heather's generosity and vision didn't stop there. She also is spearheading the fund-raising campaign to keep the Caregifted program going and growing, and she is dedicated to producing a documentary called Undersung, which tells the stories of awe-inspiring love that carries these long-term caregivers on their mission of service. This vitally important visual vehicle for sharing the stories of people (the Undersung heroes and sheroes who represent the 90 million unpaid family caregivers in the U.S.) is so necessary to raising our collective consciousness about this crucial but mostly unacknowledged role. What a marvelous mission Heather has accepted, to bring the spotlight of awareness to these caregivers who are unselfishly, quietly and courageously giving every day, year after year, in service to others. If there is some title beyond shero, (supershero?) Heather certainly deserves it!
Friends Lois and Ken Werner visited Guatemala and were so strongly impacted by the depth of poverty, malnutrition and disease there that they were moved to found the non-profit People for Guatemala to raise awareness and funds to help. They have now moved permanently to Guatemala and are establishing assistance programs to bring clean water/sanitation, education and computers, medical assistance and safe, non-polluting cooking stoves to the people there. Last year, their campaign at one local church paid for installation of 800 vented cooking stoves in small huts where the families had previously been exposed to disease-producing smoke from open fires. They are also offering instruction and materials to Guatemalan teachers, introducing reading skills to young children and technology to older children to assist in their education. They are literally changing thousands of lives, bringing healthier conditions and hope to those who were being crushed by poverty.
Another angel who felt impassioned about helping the people living in such poverty in Guatemala is Penny Rambacher. She founded Miracles in Action which seeks out under-served pockets of need in rural Guatemala and researches projects that focus on education, vocational training, and sustainable development. These projects achieve long-term results, improve quality of life, and allow truly impoverished people to help themselves-- by working in partnership with poor Guatemalan people, giving them a hand up, instead of a hand-out. Miracles in Action is currently collecting items to fill five shipping containers with goods for Christmas gifts for Guatemalan children. I love the fact that Penny has developed a plan that allows the Guatemalans to use their own talents to make products that bring them good, which is truly a hand "up", and a win-win for all.
In my own career as a singer, I seek to make a difference by singing programs for those with Alzheimer's or other dementia, allowing the music to soothe and uplift, bringing light to dimmed eyes, and smiling, toe-tapping, clapping, joyful moments to those whose memories have been stolen by disease. It's incredibly beautiful to watch the awakening and transformation that so often happens with music -- familiar songs, eye contact and a gentle pat on the shoulder can work miracles. Music is the magic agent of alchemy here, and I'm the one lucky enough to be observing and participating in the miracle. Singing is what I can do to make a difference. It's one way I choose the path of love and service over fear.
There are times in all lives that things feel out of control. We all face uncertainty. We may not be able to control what happens, but we can always control our response to what happens. Love is the path out of fear and we can consciously choose it every single day. What will you choose today? How will you make a difference in your life or that of another? We all have gifts, we have power to make a difference. I'd love to hear your choice!
Misty is my 19-year-old kitty, who likes to share her vast experience of life from a feline perspective, here on my blog. I am just the conduit for her "whisker wisdom". Hope you enjoy her insights and musings!
1. Follow your inner feline curiosity. There's a big wide world on the other side of the window. You can decide whether to view it with fear and uncertainty or with curiosity and delight. Choose delight!
2. Groom yourself to look your best. Good grooming is very important. Wash your face and ears often and keep your fur in place. Getting all ruffled is not attractive. Neither is getting puffed up to twice your size unless the neighborhood bully is bothering you. In that case, it's perfectly acceptable. Claws can even be unsheathed when there is something crucial to defend. Like your food bowl, or your mousie toy.
3. Be vulnerable. Misty has mastered the art of vulnerability. She turns on her back with feet up in the air exposing her belly, inviting a rub. We can all find our individual way to express that trust and vulnerability to those we love. It's a sign of great strength to be open and invite others to metaphorically rub your tummy.
4. Be peaceful. Sometimes the very best thing to do is curl up on a cushion and meditate. Or take a nap. If we want peace, we must be peace-full. Cats know this. You can't "fight" for peace, you simply live it!
5. Creaky doesn't equal cranky necessarily. At the advance feline age of 19, Misty knows all about being creaky. But creakiness doesn't give you the right to be cranky. We all have days when it's hard to get motivated or we are moving slowly due to pain or injury. Go ahead and lick your wounds, but don't let grumpiness cause you to snarl at others or bite the hand that feeds you. Life isn't perfect, and at times it can be downright messy. But remember, misery is optional. You can always choose your response to life.
6. Stay active and engaged with life. Stretch yourself, mentally and physically (cats are good at the physical part!) I often observe Misty doing her morning yoga and try to follow her example. She sometimes assists me with mine, also, usually by rubbing against me or dragging her tail by my mouth. Do yoga, chase birds or geckos, be alert for mice and other interesting creatures crossing your path (or whatever your human equivalent of these activities may be). Have fun, play, learn new things, stretch your life to new dimensions! Hiding under the bed is not an option! Be brave and have an adventure today!
7. Practice looking cute. If you find yourself drawn into any problem or communication issue, such as putting your paw (foot) in your mouth, simply looking cute can prevent escalation. Misty is the absolute master of looking cute. She does it pretty much all the time, to varying degrees, making it very difficult to be angry or upset with her at all. Try it. Hint: it helps to practice with a mirror so you can experiment with various expressions and gestures. Too bad we humans don't have whiskers and multidirectional ears to generate extra cuteness, like cats do. I love Misty's "Yoda" ear position, which indicates relaxation and her whiskers-forward move, which means she is intensely interested or curious or about to pounce on something. If humans had feline type ears and whiskers, I'll bet we'd have far less miscommunication!
I woke early yesterday and felt the urge to go to the beach with my camera and what a spectacular show Mother Nature provided! These almost surreal watercolor photos are just as the camera saw them. They look painted or retouched, but they are just as they were served up by the Master Artist. Sigh. How awe-inspiring!
There are a few more in the gallery on the Art page of this site. Enjoy!
"We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty."
The Story of the Butterfly emerging was told to me originally years ago by a minister, and it touched me deeply. Here's a version adapted by author Paul Coelho: "A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings." ~Anonymous
I am a caterpillar who wants to fly. I have been dutifully following Nature's path of struggle to break through the tiny hole in my cocoon, but I'm stuck, I'm exhausted and it's dark in here! No, don't come running (or walking) with the scissors. I must get unstuck myself, if I'm ever going to fly. Encouragement is appreciated, maybe even some cheering from the sidelines. You could throw me some chocolate. I'm not above needing a boost :) But, I am certain I can take on this life altering transformation, this scary-beautiful rebirth into a totally new way of being. I have faith. After all, a caterpillar has no way of knowing what its struggles are heralding. I do.
So, maybe I should re-title this blog post to: "Having a Butterfly Moment", since it's focusing on the positive outcome. But, the caterpillar moment is more honest. Still struggling. Still becoming. Still trying too hard to "be still and know".
Perhaps today will be the breakthrough to butterfly...
I came across this today and wanted to share the uplifting, incredible beauty captured here. Enjoy!
The soul would have no rainbow
No more tears. Do you remember that great slogan for Johnson & Johnson's Baby Shampoo? What a stroke of marketing genius! After all, what mother would not wish her baby no more tears?
Thinking about tears recalls a childhood event in which my 7-year-old self, an intrepid explorer even then, found and cut myself on a rusty something or other, requiring a trip to the doctor for a tetanus shot. I wailed and sobbed in his office, the tears streaming down my cheeks. In an attempt to comfort, he told me not to cry in a gentle, kind voice. I hiccuped to a stop finally, saying, in all my childlike innocence, that I might run out of tears. He gave an immediate assurance, with an ironic chuckle, that he didn't think that would ever happen. Hmmm. I guess I must concede that point.
Life does bring tears to our eyes -- of grief, of pain, of joy, of sympathy, and the whole gamut of emotions in our human repertoire. It is part of our uniqueness as sentient beings that we have deep feelings and that we can allow them to express. And according to John Vance Cheney's poetic pronouncement, out of the well of our tears, rainbows of the soul are born. That is a truly lovely thought!
Rainbows have special significance for me, and living in south Florida, I'm fortunate that they occur frequently. I have come to think of the rainbow as my own personal message from God (but, don't worry, I'll share). Rainbows have shown up in my life at just the moment I needed reassurance that all would be well, when I was fearful, despairing or feeling abandoned. They are a sign - a covenant and a promise that God's love is always present. And a rainbow is also a reminder: if there are tears in your eyes or rain in your skies, just look around when the sun peeks out for the rainbow! It's bound to be there. You have to let the light shine in order to make a rainbow.
"Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."
I am thinking about commitment. Whether it's realizing dreams, planting seeds with expectation of sunflowers, nurturing hopes and creating art with words or photographs or paint or musical notes -- all these things require us to commit to spending the time, attention, work, sweat, emotional investment and being willing to sacrifice a part of ourselves for the dream, or the art, or the music.
I will admit I love the magic that happens when the dream is first perceived as possible, as tangible. That first flush of heady promise inherent in the moment of epiphany. It seems so easy to be bold when that fire is sparking the imagination. It's the follow through that's hard. The daily toil and sweat. Picking up the paint brush when you are dead tired. Or the camera when you feel totally uninspired. Or the "butt in the chair" and "fingers on the keyboard" even when the computer screen remains stubbornly blank. And then there's the fear of failure that comes creeping in...
Here are some wonderful words of inspiration written by W.H. Murray, excerpted from The Scottish Himalayan Expedition:
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back -- always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.
All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would come his way."
In other words, serendipity strikes to bring good things to support the creative effort, to bring the commitment to fruition. Grace gathers you under its wing and pats you on the head with an encouraging smile.
I made a commitment today to complete a book that has been simmering in my subconscious for a year, bursting forth in fits and starts. I announced its near publication. That means I have to get it done, and fast. So, here I am waiting for serendipity to strike and grace to gather, to speed me to the finish line. I expect good things to come of this project, and of another to which I've committed, (which I will tell you about in a future post). OK, Providence! Bring it on! Let's dream and create and be bold! Are you in?
My announcement can be found here if you'd like to see: Sanity Savers for Caregivers
Life is a song. I know the melody, but seem to be stumbling over the old lyrics. Perhaps it's time to write new ones for the next few verses. But, it takes such courage to compose and create -- to reinvent myself in the middle of the song. It takes vision to reach out seeking new purpose and to let it kindle a spark of creativity and joy--to try on new ideas like clothing and take an honest look in the mirror of self-respect. It requires openness and vulnerability. What will people think? Do I care too much what they think? Or not enough?
Actually, I vacillate between moments of incredible clarity and focus, where the vision is compelling and motivating, alternating with times of fear and confusion when my spirit draws back into its protective shell like a sea creature responding to a dangerous predator. I never know which of these extremes will predominate. Anyone else on this same roller coaster?
I came across a quotation that gave me a physical, visceral jolt from its charge of truth:
"If one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment," wrote Dostoevsky, "all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning."
Is it an intrinsic part of our humanity that we need to be needed? If we are not useful, finding and expressing connection and meaning, we suffer for the lack. I sang this song of work "utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning" for two long years and it was indeed terrible punishment after a life song of love and service, filled with purpose and meaning. I somehow had fallen into inertia and amnesia about the fact that I can rewrite my own lyrics!
I imagine all of us have experienced times during a dark night of the soul when our life purpose is ripped away through loss, grief, fear, disconnection or adversity. Life's song can be challenging because we often find ourselves improvising it as we go along. Sometimes we lose our voice. Sometimes we forget the words. Sometimes stage fright makes our knees knock and we hyperventilate our way through the song. If we are unwilling (or unable) to leave the safety of our shell, to risk failure in the eyes of our peers, or worse, our own highest selves, our soul is indeed meted out the "terrible punishment" Dostoevsky describes and we are sentenced to life without meaning. But it doesn't have to be that way.
In the words of the poet and philosopher, Kahlil Gibran, about work in his beloved classic, The Prophet:
"When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
A life song is certainly to be charged with a breath of our own spirit! And our work is vastly richer if we suffuse it with love and joy. As I sing my life song, I want it to be vibrant, heart-full, breath-taking, with tenderness and love, meaning and beauty. I want to sing a song that lifts others who hear it, gives hope and healing. As I hesitantly start to sing my new lyrics to life's song, I am watching those listening, letting go of my fears and just singing. And I try to silence the biggest critic of all -- the inner one who is loud and sometimes downright destructive!
I sing on, semi-bravely, trying to let my life purpose shine in the lyrics. Sometimes, the song is effortless and it soars, while others join in beautiful harmony. Other days, it's solo and scary. But if I stay in this present moment, feeling all there is to feel, living fully and vibrantly and appreciating all the simplicity and complexity of life -- well, then the song writes itself.
Do you believe in synchronicity? Events that occur by seeming coincidence, that appear to be connected, but have no demonstrable causal relationship? I most fervently do! The reading and reviewing of Eldon Taylor's book, I Believe: When What You Believe Matters!, is just such an event for me-- an almost magical manifestation of what I needed to read and ponder at exactly the moment it would have the most impact on my life. Let me explain.
I have been experiencing a bit of a rough patch in my life, as have so many others in these somewhat trying and chaotic times. Dealing with caregiver burnout, grieving the loss of my mother, and various health and job challenges became overwhelming. Some of my core beliefs were shaken to their foundations and cracks began to appear. I started to question my whole way of relating to the world, my path of service, my very faith in the goodness of the Universe. Quite predictably, my self-confidence was suffering under the onslaught, despite my efforts to practice all the balancing, healing tools I could marshal. So I was more than ready to devour this wonderful, stimulating, thought-provoking, cathartic book.
Oddly enough, had I not given my word that I would do this review, I would likely have skipped it, with all the major upheaval transpiring in my life. And that would have been a personal loss and a very sad thing for my spiritual growth, as well, since reading the book was like watching the sun emerging from behind a bank of dark clouds and shine fully on my soul. The illumination it brought to mind and spirit have been very profound. Through a series of anecdotes, stories, research studies, inspirational quotes and using the wisdom of his lifetime weaving them all together, Eldon Taylor has created a gem of a book to help sort out what you, personally, believe -- about yourself, your world, your integrity, love, enlightenment and so much more!
Many of these concepts were not new to me, since I have been privileged to hear many inspiring speakers and read their works over the past years. But my psyche, through the persistent battering of adversity, put up a protective shield and I lost touch with my own authentic self. I could no longer hear the still, small voice that had been my guide. I felt abandoned. Anyone else in this boat with me?
Through reading and reflecting on the ideas presented in this book, I've begun to find my way back to my authentic self, to the strength that emanates from being in alignment with my deepest core beliefs. The book both inspired and also challenged me to do some deep inner work, but it ultimately affirmed and stretched my belief system, reminding me of truths that I'd forgotten.
One quotation particularly caught my attention: "Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live." ~ Norman Cousins
The impact of this was like a sledgehammer to my soul, especially when I realized that I'd been contemplating letting some cherished dreams die, feeling that circumstances were out of my control. The process of reading I Believe helped me to reclaim the power of my integrity through deeply examining my beliefs and their motivation.
I think anyone who is seeking answers to life's most challenging questions, willing to take an introspective, searching look at why they believe as they do, will benefit greatly from the insights and reflections presented by Eldon Taylor. This book seems to me to be a distillation of Taylor's wisdom derived by authoring 300 books, audio and video presentations, hosting radio talk shows, and developing his patented InnerTalk technology. I found truth resonating through the many topics covered, and it was accessible because of the way in which it was shared. Taylor is candid and open in describing his own path -- the triumphs and the failures -- and makes exploring your own beliefs a much more productive process through his insights.
*I was provided a copy of this manuscript for purposes of review.
I am a singer, a writer, a craftswoman, a student of life and of Spirit, a wife, a friend, an inquisitive adventurer on the learning path. Seeking, sensing, sifting and now connecting! Please join the fun by leaving a comment or passing on a favorite post via your social network. As you can tell from the category list, my interests are varied and somewhat eclectic. I am seeking all that brings joy & excitement to life, purpose & passion to our daily round. I am curious about pretty much everything.