Friday, August 12, 2016

Does Prayer Alone Work? What YOU Can Do to Answer Your Own Prayers!

Remember the story of the man who prayed to win the lottery? Night after night after night he prayed and prayed and prayed to win. Finally, in exasperation, after losing every single lottery every time he prayed and because he firmly believed in the expression, “Ask and ye shall receive,” he wailed at God – “I keep praying to win the lottery and you never answer my prayers! Why?! I’ve asked time and time again, and you ignore me every time!” 

God answered simply, “Buy a ticket.”

We, too, must take action if we expect prayer to work. We can’t expect answers if we don’t participate in some way to solve our own problems! Because prayer works for me, I am listing what I believe are power-of-prayer factors regarding my role in receiving answers to prayer. They might work for you, too.



Love

Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier. ~ Mother Teresa

Life is filled with bumpy roads, tragedy, stress, and unexpected life-altering challenges. But life is also filled with joy, love, happiness, and life-altering experiences. Unfortunately many of us judge what happens to us to be either good or bad, not realizing that what might first appear to be bad for us might actually be what we need at the time, and what we perceive as good for us is merely a matter of our own distorted impressions – not at all “good” for us. Every lesson we learn promotes our spiritual growth and judging whether or not something is good or bad really doesn’t matter.

What many of us don’t realize is that during times of discouragement, stress, anxiety, depression, and anguish, as we muddle through life alone, we sometimes – or often – need help. Not until we are in complete denial of what is happening to and around us and not until we experience despair due to frustration and the inability to control our situations do we reach out in prayer. 

But praying with hatred in our hearts decreases our chances of having our prayers answered. How can we expect to receive a loving response to prayer when our hearts are so filled with anger, rage, and hatred? By filling our hearts with negativity, we allow no love to enter!

When we reach out to others for help and they pray for and with us (and by “with us” I don’t necessarily mean in a church setting), we increase the power of prayer. Humans were meant to interact with each other. Many people, for some reason, often see asking for help as a sign of weakness, when, in actuality, reaching out to others is a sign of strength, because reaching out shows strength in admitting our vulnerabilities. None of us can do everything by ourselves, and the sooner we realize that we thrive with human connection and love, the sooner we will be able to reach out to others for help and not feel so alone in our personal frustrations and feelings of failure. 

I used to hate asking for help, though I often accepted help when it was offered to me. To me, asking for help meant admitting that I was incapable of taking care of myself or my children. Not being able to do everything by myself and then realizing I needed to reach out to others was a lesson that took me a long time to learn. A lot of us behave like 2-year-olds, who insist on doing everything by ourselves. As much as I hated asking for help, I loved when somebody asked me for my help; I loved the idea of being able to serve others. And when I realized the joy I felt in helping others, I accepted help from them in a more loving manner, because I knew how good helping felt.

While the energy of prayer alone could work, many prayers said on our behalf can produce overwhelming results. I can give you two examples of how prayer worked for me and for one of my loved ones:

When I discovered I had breast cancer, I reached out to friends and family members. Many of them prayed on my behalf. After only one chemo treatment, my tumor shrunk from 4 cm. wide to nearly imperceptible. Even my oncologist was surprised and couldn’t explain the tumor’s rapid reduction!

When one of my grandsons was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, I again reached out to family and friends who sent positive, loving thoughts and prayers. His bone tumor was so large, everyone feared that he would lose his leg, or because young men his age were likely to die from this type of cancer, his life. Two years later, he is alive and well and walks with only a slight limp.

You could call our recoveries a fluke in both of these situations; you could say that the tumors might have shrunk anyway, but I know in my heart the power of prayer, and I will continue to rely on prayer for those times when I need it most. 

Why prayer works is because praying is an intentional thought, and thought is energy. So another important aspect of prayer is intention, which comes from willful, conscious thinking.

Intention

In centering prayer, the sacred word is not the object of the attention but rather the expression of the intention of the will. ~ Thomas Keating

Emotional intention plays an important role in determining the outcome of prayer. How much are you willing to invest in creating your own answer? If you believe in God, you know that God resides in you. So if God is part of you, you – and the God within you – play an important role in answering your own prayers. 

An asthma attack I had once was so bad, I was in the hospital for almost three weeks, nearly dying twice. I bargained with God that I would never smoke again if S/He allowed me to live. Yes, I bargained with God.

So am I suggesting that bargaining is part of prayer? No! You can’t bargain your way into having your prayers answered. I cheated a few times anyway (stupid, since I nearly died – twice) after I left the hospital, so I reneged on my own promise. Bargaining with God is bargaining with yourself. Can you make promises you can keep?

So what do I mean by intention? 

If you feel you really need help and everything you’ve done so far has resulted in more grief and pain, call out to God, your Higher Power, or your Inner Spirit, and MEAN what you say! Put your heart and soul into your prayers. Ask yourself how you intend to benefit from prayer and be specific with your intention. Praying for a new “home” could land you in a tent in someone’s back yard, but specific intentions with clear pictures of how you “see” your prayer being answered bring the right people and circumstances into your life.

Prayers said on the behalf of others is powerful, too. Stop focusing on only your own problems. Energy begets more energy and the more you focus on your problems, the more problems will arise simply because the energy you expend focusing on your problems and frustrations tells the Universe to bring more problems and frustrations to you. “Oh,” the Universe responds, “that’s where you want to focus your attention? OK. Here is more of the same.”

Claim your intentions positively. Visualize your problems disappearing, and replace your problems with possible solutions. You would be surprised by how many ways you can solve a problem. Figure out how you can contribute to the solution.

Sincerity 

Sincerity and truth are the basis of every virtue. ~ Confucius

Prayer is not a frivolous pursuit. You can’t just recite a bunch of words by rote and think, “Okay, I prayed, now answer me.” That’s like thinking, “OK, I went to church on Sunday; now I can swear, cheat, lie, commit adultery, and steal.” Yes, words by themselves have power, and repetition does bring a kind of meditative quality to prayer, but unless you’re earnest in your prayer, words alone, without emotional attachment to those words, are meaningless.

Want or need money or a love interest? Dr. Wayne Dyer often writes that wanting is the surest way to not get what you want, because what you are telling God and the Universe is that you are in a perpetual state of want or need. Also, money is only a representation of things you want. Money you need could be used to pay for power bills or rent. Instead of praying for money, pray for resources and help to come your way. Money could come, too, but instead of praying for money to fix your broken car, pray for the right person to come into your life to help you fix your car or bring you a new one. This kind of prayer has worked for me on numerous occasions! Though I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, I am always delighted that the right person at the right time shows up when I pray for help.

And if you want love to show up on your doorstep, become the person you want to meet and you will attract him or her into your life. Reflect the qualities of your perfect mate, and be that person. Visualize yourself as caring, compassionate, and loving so that caring, compassionate, and loving people will come into your life. 

Another way to be the kind of person you want to meet is to serve others.

Service

Do for others what you would have them do for you. ~ paraphrase of Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12

Do good for others, and ask what you can do to help those in need. Again, the Universe is very reciprocal. If you want something good to happen to you, do something good for others. Put yourself out there. You don’t have to bankrupt yourself by giving away all of your resources if giving means your children don’t eat, but find something you can do to benefit others, even if you think you don’t have anything to give. 

I always – and for many, many years, thought that since I was incapable of helping anyone financially, I couldn’t help anyone at all. I placed all of my personal value on my own lack of money. Then one day I heard about an organization that accepted crocheted hats for cancer patients. Having had cancer and knowing how important head coverings were for people with cancer, especially during the cold winter months, I decided that since one of my talents was crocheting, I would crochet hats for cancer patients.

One surprising realization resulted from changing my thinking that day. Because I previously thought I couldn’t help anybody with anything, I suddenly remembered that for years I always helped my kids – when they needed someone to care for their kids, for example, I was there. So maybe I couldn’t help the Universe, but I could help some of the people in that Universe, people who were close to me, like family and friends.

Using our creativity and talents to help others is a great way to express love. Any creative endeavor you enjoy could also bring joy to another human being. If you don’t think you have any talents, start exploring the many options available for you to learn. Maybe your talent lies in cooking or baking – bake something for a sick friend. Maybe you’ve planted an abundance of vegetables in your garden – share your bounty. Whatever you enjoy creating, consider sharing the final product with others. By serving others you’ll discover that giving truly is its own reward, because when you give, you also receive benefits you never knew existed.

Think you don’t have any talents to share with the rest of the world? Maybe you’re limiting yourself and your expectations. Read The Eight Creative Talents and click on the examples to see where you might fit.   

Action 

You can’t expect to grow a garden unless you first plant the seeds. ~ Theresa Wiza

Like the man in the lottery story, you, too need to take action if you want your prayers answered. YOU have to be the catalyst to your own answers. If you sit at home on a couch in your basement watching video games all day, praying to have a job you love where you can play video games all day, you can’t expect that job to come knocking on your door. You need to get up. Research available opportunities. Take classes to improve your chances of getting your ideal job. 

If you take no action, your prayer has zero chance of getting answered. Anything you do to educate yourself is one step toward achieving your goals. DO something! DO anything! Move! And after you take that first step, start looking for signs that your action and the prayers you said are working.

Signs

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign ~ Five Man Electrical Band

While working at one of the most unusual jobs I ever had, I knew instinctively, on the first day, that I had to get out. I might have been the only one who felt that the entire radio station was condemned and would soon crash, but it was very obvious to me that the station was about to either explode or implode due to its numerous inadequacies.

Just prior to my working there (I had been on a two-week vacation to visit my son, who was a Marine stationed in California), the radio station fired the person who hired me and nobody knew I was supposed to work there. I was supposed to have been the station’s “idea person,” but suddenly a new manager and idea person appeared on the same day I showed up. I was demoted to sales, a position I hated, but I needed a job and I felt cornered.

I considered going back to daycare, but when I provided daycare in earlier years, parents rarely paid me and what pay I did receive was dismal. Still I needed a job and decided that if I was going to go back to daycare, I would make my daycare special. I would put my heart and soul into it. I needed to make a decision quickly, though, because time was running out. I hated the radio station job, but I wasn’t sure I could make a living with daycare. Read Miracle on the Rock – Miracles Do Happen and Prayers Do Get Answered to learn how that situation “prayed” out.

The answers to our prayers sometimes don’t fit our expectations of what the outcomes of those prayers should be. Unbeknown to me, by accidentally putting myself below the poverty level when I returned to daycare, my lack of income actually helped me during my cancer scare. The God in me must have known that a cancer was brewing and my Inner Spirit placed me exactly where I needed to be when I needed to be there. Also, apparently when you are so poor, you can’t afford anything, let alone treatment, the government has a program to help you!

Forgiveness

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

What often holds us back from truly enjoying our life is our inability to forgive others. Forgiving somebody who raped your child, forgiving the person who murdered your parents, forgiving the kid who bullied you or your loved one is difficult, but forgiveness is not impossible.

Forgiving lifts the burden of hate from our souls and allows us to feel peace. We may never understand why others behave as they do, but as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, we all have good and evil within us. We cannot control those who act on their evil thoughts, but we can learn to forgive them. We don’t know how, why, or when their minds warped into malevolence. We can, however, be grateful that we did not act upon our own evil thoughts.

Gratitude

When a person doesn't have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity. ~ Elie Wiesel

Above all, be grateful for everything you have and everything you are. You might think you have nothing, and therefore you have nothing for which to be grateful, but through all your pain and suffering, you’re still here. If you have a heart that beats, be grateful. If you have lungs that breathe, be grateful. If you have a place to live, food to eat, water to drink, people you love, and people who love you, be grateful.

Faith

“I believe in everything until it's disproved. So I believe in fairies, the myths, dragons. It all exists, even if it's in your mind. Who's to say that dreams and nightmares aren't as real as the here and now?” ~ John Lennon

Believe! Just believe.

Bottom Line

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one's weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

We are all traveling our own life’s journey. We think we are alone, but a Higher Power or God is with us every step of the way and people everywhere are just waiting to help. We may not be aware of that power or even believe in prayer, but just because we don’t believe in something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

My definition of God may not be familiar to you. I don’t think of my Higher Power as some giant being in the sky, sitting on a throne awaiting prayer requests. My God is the collection of souls of everyone who has ever lived, everyone who is now living, everyone who will live, angelic beings, every form of consciousness, and everything in Nature. When I pray, I pray to that collective consciousness, and I believe I’m reaching into the collective soul of all of us. 

If we want our prayers heard by our Higher Power, we need first to fill our hearts and minds with love, make our intentions clear, be sincere in our requests, serve others, take action, look for signs along our way to let us know our prayers are being answered (see Miracle on the Rock story above for one specific sign), forgive those who have trampled our hearts and souls, and be grateful for every person we’ve encountered, for every meaningful relationship we’ve ever had, for every lesson we’ve learned, and for every challenge we’ve overcome. 

If we can accomplish those goals, we have made ourselves receptive to the power of prayer. And when the energy of your prayer connects to the energy of other prayers, prayer becomes an even more powerful force. So don’t be afraid to ask others to pray with you. You don’t have to be in the same room – you don’t even have to pray at the same time – but if more than one person gather together in spirit, the energy of your prayer will increase and your prayer will be answered, maybe, as I indicated earlier, not in the way you expected, but it will be answered.



Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Racial Intolerance – Black and White or Fifty Shades of Gray?


A friend and I were discussing the 2016 Oscars and he wanted to know what I thought about the constant references made about the fact that no blacks were nominated for any awards. A cloud of reminders had hovered over the entire event, and while I realized Chris Rock brought even more attention to the fact that no blacks were nominated, I wondered why the discussion was still so rampant. Why we are still discussing something that should have been resolved a long time ago?

Why, of all the races and colors in the world, do blacks appear to be the ones still struggling the most? After all these years, after all the strides we think we have made, after all the contributions Martin Luther King, Jr. and others have made to elevate the black population to a level where whites would accept them, blacks still seem to have difficulty assimilating. And yet, they have many amazing role models, from Oprah Winfrey to Maya Angelou to President Barack Obama to Kanye West – OOPS!

In all seriousness, I can’t figure out why blacks are the ones who most often appear to be ostracized – well, over the years, anyway, because, move over, Blacks, make room for Muslims and Syrians today. Yes, Americans are now targeting Muslims and Syrians. Oh, and Mexicans. We don’t want them in our country either! 

The first five years of my life, I lived in an ethnically diverse neighborhood. From our apartment in the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, we spent nearly every day walking through a neighborhood filled with so much diversity, Hyde Park looked like a mini-version of the world. I saw differences from the day I was born, but I was oblivious to the torment whites inflicted on people of color, because I never saw it back then.

Over the years other ethnic groups have been similarly ostracized – the Jews, the Japanese, the Irish, the Polish – but the Jews, the Japanese, the Irish, and the Polish worked hard to achieve assimilation and to erase from the minds of the American people the negative stereotypes white people carried about them. Without forming organizations that ostracized everyone else, without standing on platforms voicing their complaints, they assimilated without notice. Though blacks weren’t the only ones who had been enslaved, we heard mostly about how whites enslaved blacks. I don’t remember other ethnic groups voicing their complaints as loudly.

So what’s going on? Does integrity or work ethics play a role? Is the white mind flawed in some way, so that deeply embedded within each of us is a KKK gene? I certainly hope not. And why were blacks delegated to represent the bottom of the gene pool, while Asians were placed on the highest platform of respect?

Maybe a lot of what is happening in America has to do with the mindset of the American people – or Karma. When we bullied this country away from the Native Americans, we sent them off to live on reservations. Why did the Native Americans accept their “lot” in life? Were they duped into believing that these future land stealers, I mean landowners, had the Native Americans’ best interests in mind, or were the Native Americans attracted to these pioneers’ introduction of greed and politics?

Of all the people in the United States, I would have thought the Native Americans would have rightfully considered an uprising, but if they did, I never read about it and if they thought about it, none of us heard about it, and they never followed through with one. Were any Native American actors chosen as contenders for an Academy Award?  What about Japanese actors? Were any Polish actors nominated? I don’t know. I never heard any complaints other than those from the black community.

One problem from which many of us suffer is that we tend to think of whites as opposite of blacks. So whites assume the superior role, while we shove blacks to the bottom – again. We call blacks African Americans as if all of them are from Africa and all whites are considered to be just Americans as if we all come from the United States. But even our President isn’t all black! Like our president, not all blacks are all black, and yet, if even only 6.25% of a person is black, we call him or her black. And most of us whites are not Native Americans! As a matter of fact, if we were to return to our country of origin, we might find that move to be impossible. After all, how does one move back to several countries of origin? 

I sometimes wonder if blacks are responsible for perpetuating the black/white controversy by constantly reminding us of every negative thing that has happened – and continues to happen – to them over the years. Or is the white community responsible for proliferating the stereotype? Media contributes to the picture of blacks being disemboweled by whites and some law enforcement groups jump on the hate bandwagon by targeting blacks as well. Why not? They’re easy to spot, aren’t they? But aren’t Asians too? Why did our hatred of the Japanese end so swiftly?

Another obvious problem is that many whites teach their children to be racist. Kids learn from their parents, their caregivers, their teachers, the media, and their neighbors that blacks are supposed to be ostracized. But white children don’t automatically hate black children, just as black children don’t automatically hate white children, though black children learn how to be racist too. Kids learn hatred. They aren’t born hating. And when little white children identify black children as targets of hatred, they tend to notice that black skin is easier to spot in a country filled with lighter skin. We teach our children what to see and hear. 

How easily we become deceived into believing everything we hear and everything we think we see. I remember watching The Oprah Winfrey Show many years ago when Jane Elliott appeared on her show. Elliott ran a social experiment by separating blue-eyed individuals from brown-eyed individuals. From the moment audience members entered the studio, both groups were separated from each other. The brown-eyed members of the audience were treated with utmost respect while blue-eyed members were treated poorly. 

Jane discussed why brown-eyed people were superior in nature to blue-eyed people and she supplied “irrefutable proof” to back up her claims. Of course, none of what she said was true, but audience members fell for it and even provided their own proof to back her up. 

Are we all so vulnerable we choose to believe lies? And are we all so eager to put ourselves in superior positions when we consider others to be more vulnerable than we are? Why do we automatically assume that what we hear and see is true, especially when the person delivering the message appears to have some authority? I would have thought that Oprah’s program might have impacted people to behave differently. Maybe it impacted only those people who watched it. 

From that program, I learned that most of us prefer to have others think for us rather than take the effort to think for ourselves.Why are we always so much more comfortable playing the role of a follower than we are of being a leader? Look at Hitler and his followers! How many people stood up to him and his idiocy? How many people still follow him? No one race is any better or any worse than any other race. We have got to stop looking at each other as enemies!

Recently I saw a video of two little black girls, who were probably around 5 or 6, encouraged by a 12-year-old black boy to hurt a little 3-year-old white girl while he taped the bully session (the incident took place a couple years ago in St. Paul, Minnesota, and is heartbreaking to watch, but you can see it HERE if you want to watch it). 

Though the 12-year-old who uploaded the video to the Internet, called it, “When white people piss black people off part 1,” both fathers of the 12-year-old and the 3-year old – claimed the situation was not racially motivated. All bullies involved were disciplined, and the bullies' dad apologized to the victim's dad. But if this event was not racially motivated, why then did the videographer give it a racial title? Perhaps, because he was only 12, he hoped it would become viral and he would gain some kind of fame.

Have race relations improved over the past hundred years? If you watched the Academy Awards you would think not. So let’s take one city, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and see if race relations have improved there. Yes, race riots run rampant in other cities as well, but in this particular city, we saw a race massacre occur on May 31-June 1 in 1921. 91 years later, on April 6, 2012 (Good Friday), in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we saw a race riot. What we often see is whites antagonize while blacks retaliate. 

Did race relations improve when President Barack Obama moved into the White House? Obviously not. Blacks and many whites hoped it would, but because of the masked hatred so many whites have for blacks, Obama’s presidency only fueled the fire that already burned beneath way too many whites. We are a country filled with bullies who want to uplift ourselves while stomping on those we consider to be beneath us!

My personal belief is that nobody is born a bully, but once you become a bully, your sense of who you are becomes warped. You enjoy the high you get from and the power you feel by inflicting pain on somebody more vulnerable than you are. You don’t recognize what you have become, but what you have become is a coward! When we encourage our children to bully other children who are more vulnerable than they are, we are teaching our children how to be cowards!

And yes, I believe a lot of white people are cowards! Why do we act so afraid of blacks? Why do so many of us target them with our hatred? And why don’t we stand up for our own personal beliefs? Why do we cripple ourselves with learned hatred?

I wonder what would happen if we took parents or caregivers out of the equation and gave children an opportunity to learn about each other through play (not in a Frederick II, Emperor of Germany, type of experiment when the emperor desired to discover the language babies would speak if they were left alone {they all died}, but in a joyful social setting)? Might we discover that children of all ethnic backgrounds actually get along

Look at any playground and you’ll see kids of all colors playing together without prejudice. Parents, caregivers, and teachers are responsible for teaching children how to hate – and how to love. Why not teach them how to love – themselves and each other?

We all want to see an end to bullying, but we don’t look at ourselves as being one of those bullies, and many of us are! If we intentionally teach our children how to hate people who are not like us, we bully our children! We are teaching our children how to hate! Do we really want our kids to grow up in a country filled with hatred? Is hatred the legacy we want to leave behind for them?

On the other end of the spectrum we see people being bullied, and we consistently emphasize prejudice and hatred, whether we speak those words aloud or act insidiously prejudiced against people – again – not like us. If everybody was like us, we’d be clones of each other!

Can we improve race relations in our country or for the Academy next year? Is the answer to the problem of inclusion in the Oscars that black parents who want their kids to become black actors and win awards to educate black students to write black screenplays, hire black actors, and join the Academy of Arts and Sciences? Or am I suggesting they just shut up about what is happening to them and stop emphasizing racial hatred?  

When Mike Wallace interviewed Morgan Freeman during a 2005, 60 Minutes television show, Wallace asked Freeman: “How are we going to get rid of racism until ...?” Morgan Freeman interrupted, “Stop talking about it. I'm going to stop calling you a white man. And I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You're not going to say, ‘I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.’ Hear what I'm saying?”  

So maybe we just need to stop talking about it. Maybe that’s the answer. Partly! Maybe we need to bring attention to the absurdity of racial prejudice in ways other than chronicling all the bad things people of different races do to each other, and instead of focusing on negativity, bring more attention to the attributes of our various races. Force media to pay attention to outstanding accomplishments made by all races and all people of different ethnicities. 

Years ago, sick of all the negative reporting, I told my mother that I would really rather watch more uplifting news. Maybe spend a few minutes televising the negativity in our communities and in our world, and then take the rest of the half hour or hour showing positive actions taken by members of our communities and our world. She told me that nobody would watch it. 

Maybe she was right. We stop our cars to watch a traffic accident, and our own engines get revved when we view atrocities on TV that put us in the mood to fight people we perceive as our enemies. And usually, with the exception of the recent explosion of hatred for Muslims, those people are white if we’re black and black if we’re white.

Why not take that fight-urge we feel for situations that matter to us and become action-oriented individuals who work to improve our country and our communities, using our talents, our skills, and our intellect? What are we mirroring to our children? Instead of allowing media to force our children to watch the incessant belittling of black people, why don’t we show kids the strength, the resiliency, the fortitude, and the creativity of black people instead?

Way too many of us allow media to manipulate our minds for way too many reasons: because a lot of us don’t know how to reason; because a lot of us complacently play the roles of followers; and because a lot of us don’t use common sense. We rely on media to provide us with a semblance of truth, fabricated from pieces of truth, interwoven into lies so delicately that unless we care enough to know the absolute truth, we think that what we see actually happened. 

We allow and accept this manipulation, because we don’t want to take time to learn the truth. We believe that everything we see on TV or read online is true without validating the source!

We watch videos conveniently snipped together to give the illusion that what we see is true, because some bullies on the other side of the editing program want us to believe the lies we read and watch, or they were told by their bosses that the footage needed to be manipulated so their version would be considered reliable and would become viral! It never occurs to us that the reason we are fed lies is to improve ratings so we can feed greedy station managers.

We take as fact the lies we see and hear and then we vomit them across social media so that everyone can become infected with those same lies. We ceaselessly accept lie after lie after lie after lie. Those lies build walls of hatred between “us” and “them” and we protect those walls at all costs, because we fear that if we let our guard down, we will be annihilated. We have a let’s-get-them-before-they-get-us mentality, and it’s ripping apart the fabric of our United States.

WAKE UP! 
EDUCATE YOURSELF!

Wouldn’t it be nice to awaken tomorrow and know peace, no matter in which neighborhood you reside? Let’s stop focusing on hatred, prejudice, stereotypes, and statistics. Do we really want the Academy Awards to reflect national statistics? 

If 6% of American residents are of Italian descent, 3% of French descent, 2% of Norwegian descent, 7% of Mexican descent, 11% of Irish descent, and 15% of German descent, is the Academy responsible for insuring that they match statistical percentages to contenders for potential Academy Awards? 

How ridiculous! Awards should be given based on talent, not on color or ethnicity. If you create a movie that appeals to a wide audience and the acting and directing are superb, you deserve an award, but you don’t deserve an award only because statistically you belong to a small representation of your nationality.

However, if you truly want a voice in determining the outcome of the Academy Awards, become a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Better yet, ask to be invited to join by somebody on the Board of Governors. Of course you’ll have to request admission from a current member to be considered for admission, and it would help if you already won an Academy Award, but if the goal of writing, producing, or acting in a movie is to win an award, learn how to win awards. 

Will winning an award mean you will now be respected as a producer, writer, actor, videographer, or whatever? Leonardo DiCaprio was already respected as an actor and now he has finally won an award. Did he need to win an award to get more roles? Will people treat him better now that he has won?

Maybe the best way to teach others how to treat all of us is to stop living down to whatever our particular stereotype dictates. If we are obese, for instance, let’s not sit in front of everyone in fast-food restaurants devouring several large hamburgers, tons of French fries, and 2 liters of pop. We all know that obesity and heart problems go hand in hand. Why put ourselves in a position to be ridiculed? 

If we are white, let’s own up to the fact that we were bullies when we first confiscated this country from its original inhabitants and felt that we had the right to use people as slaves. We are not the ones who have the right to give permission to others who want to live in this country, a country that was STOLEN BY THIEVES! And now we think we can dictate who will live here? Give that right to the Native Americans. Let them choose who they want to live in this country. 

And let us all remember, that unless our ancestors were Native Americans, our ancestors were all immigrants! A lot of immigrants today are hard-working individuals who just want a better life for themselves and their families. Like Muslims, they are not all terrorists! (Related Reading: Immigration Rant – America’s Dirty Secrets

If you don’t want to be seen as a thug, stop wearing your pants below your butts. Don’t allow negative media to convince you that you need to follow the stereotypical negative image media want all of us to believe about you no matter to what race you belong. 

Above all, whether you’re black, white, Muslim, Syrian, or belong to any ethnic group Americans have decided is not worthy of living in our country, always speak in a manner that shows, not only who you truly are, but also who you truly want to be. We need to expect more from ourselves and then exceed our own expectations. We need to respect each other, and we need to embrace our differences. 

Instead of complaining about the way things are, let’s change the way things are. If we don’t know how to change things, let’s learn how to change things. Let’s get involved in whatever matters to us so that we can make changes we want to see. Also let’s live by example! Let us prove to people who berate and humiliate us that we are NOT who or what others think we are. Let’s bring more attention to the positive aspects of race relations and inspire the spirit of cooperation. Let’s encourage children of different backgrounds to work together. 

Kids are having a hard enough time learning how to cooperate with each other considering the current atmosphere of extreme divisiveness in politics, but we owe it to them to provide at least a little hope, to believe that the way we present the world to them is not the way it always has to be.


We cannot change the past or the way people think about the past, but we can change the present and, through the present, the future. Every ethnic group has its stereotypes. Let’s erase those stereotypes and start presenting ourselves as intelligent, caring, compassionate, empathetic, loving, peace-keeping individuals who use common sense in our UNITED States. Until this current 2016 election, other countries respected us. Let’s earn that respect again.

Friday, February 5, 2016

How to Feel More Powerful

Picture a bully standing over a little child. Notice the bully with hands on hips and a larger than life presence. Now look at the one being bullied. The body looks small and almost curled into itself. What made the bully think he or she could pounce on the intended target? Did vulnerability play a role?

Bullies sense insecurity and vulnerability. They actively pursue victims they perceive to be weaker than they are. No better example exists of a coward than one who finds somebody weaker and chooses to victimize the weak.

Forget for a moment about bullies and victims you witness from afar. How many times do you or your children suffer from insecurity? How many times do you allow life to beat you down? One major upset to the life you’ve been living could cause the world you used to know dissolve around you and make you feel as if you’ve been swept up in a tidal wave. Maybe your husband left you for a younger woman or you just discovered that your best friend or sibling seduced your spouse. 

Maybe you were looking forward to retiring with the pension you’d been building for the past 50 years but the plant closed and went bankrupt, you lost all of your future income, and now you have to work an extra 20 years at a place similar to the one you’ve hated for the past 50.

However you interpret nonverbal communications of others, you act in response to your perceptions. With your response, what message – about you – do you give to the world? Do you look defeated, battered, and bruised, or do you look confident and in control of your life? Do you walk around with your shoulders slumped and your chin on your chest, or do you walk with your chin held high and your shoulders upright? Take a peek into the studies of phrenology and physiognomy, where facial expressions and body language reveal character – and lack of character to discern truths from lies. 

Years ago, I wrote the following article that discussed facial expressions and body language (the site where it appeared no longer exists): 

"Lie to Me" and Paul Ekman: Physiognomy and Phrenology Exposed:

Lie to Me was a television program about a group of experts in the field of face and body analysis who assisted local and federal law enforcement agencies in discovering the truth. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a slight facial movement, nearly imperceptible to the untrained eye, held secrets that surpassed even the most sophisticated lie detectors. The contention was that facial expressions revealed character.

The show also contended that character and the ability to ascertain truth were revealed not only through voluntary and involuntary facial expressions but also through body movements as well.

Dr. Paul Ekman, the inspiration for the show, wrote several books about the subject of physiognomy and revealed that truths can be found in what he terms "micro expressions" and involuntary body language. Together with Wallace V. Friesen, and Joseph C. Hager, Ekman developed and wrote a manual and investigators guide to understanding facial behavior entitled, The Facial Action Coding System (FACS), revised in 2002. (This nonverbal communication guide costs $260 plus shipping and handling, but the comprehensive guide offers an outstanding array of tools for researching and studying the face, including tools for artificially aging a face to aid in the recovery of missing children.)

Lie to Me was more than just a show about physiognomy (the study of facial expressions denoting character); it was also a show about phrenology (the study of skull formation and its relationship to character).

The practice of physiognomy has been around for at least 2500 years. Aristotle speculated on the relationship between external appearance and emotion, claiming that passion could be seen in the face. In the 17th century Charles Le Brun influenced the scientific community to further explore the benefits of physiognomy by comparing animal characteristics to human characteristics. Even before Charles Darwin introduced the subject of natural selection and evolution, phrenologists were comparing animals to humans. Like the movie, 101 Dalmatians, cartoons and television commercials sometimes depict people whose animals demonstrate a peculiar likeness to their owners.

Orson Squire Fowler and his publishing firm, Fowler and Wells, published many books on the subject and promoted his beliefs to the general public. His Phrenology Proved, Illustrated and Applied, convinces readers of the absoluteness of his beliefs. It was not until the 19th century, however, that the term "phrenology" was utilized.

Mary Olmstead Stanton in her book, Physiognomy, A Practical and Scientific Treatise: Being a Manual Of Instruction In The Knowledge Of The Human Physiognomy And Organism" (2nd edition, 1881), wrote that understanding physiognomy would enable man to understand himself.

While not widely practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries, phrenology and physiognomy were resurrected in the 20th century when Dr. Edward Vincent Jones compiled a list of physical traits which he believed correctly identified human character and behavior. As a United States Superior Court Judge, Dr. Jones tried criminal cases that included every type of personality and, based on his experience, was convinced that his findings were correct.

Phrenology, a study closely related to physiognomy, concerns itself mostly with characteristics of the skull, specifically size and structure of the skull, nose, eyes, ears, etc. and the angles of those structures. Physiognomy, on the other hand, is a study that relies on characteristics of the body, and in particular, the features of the face, the shape of the forehead, chin, cheeks, nose, lips, and eyes, and their relativity and distance to each other.

Our faces pout, ponder, smirk, smile, and wince. Through our expressions, we express joy, sadness, fear, and courage. Sometimes our expressions betray us when we try to hide behind a fa├žade. Lie to Me would have helped identify and explain terms we use, like "stiff upper lip" and "high brow," characteristics that define a person's personality and emotions.

Hiding from the truth might have become more difficult if Lie to Me hadn’t been canceled. We might have been able to explore the truth behind our expressions. People who willfully suppressed their emotions and concealed their fears would have found themselves exposed. Subtleties of expression that previously went undetected are all revealed in the Facial Action Coding System. By watching Lie to Me we might have been able to save ourselves $260 and learned something valuable.

Maybe Lie to Me would also have helped us discern truth from lies in our most significant relationships. And maybe, after watching Lie to Me, we would have known exactly what Mona Lisa's smile actually revealed.

###

And now I would like to introduce you to a TED Talk video, conducted by Amy Cuddy, who studies nonverbal communication, particularly as it relates to power and dominance. In the video she shows you, not only how to look more powerful, but also how to feel more powerful. Trust me. This video is worth the time it takes to watch it:



By watching the video you'll learn not how to fake being powerful, but to become powerful!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

What Can I Do For You vs. What Can You Do For Me

“…One with true virtue always seeks a way to give. One who lacks virtue always seeks a way to get. To the giver comes the fullness of life; to the taker, just an empty hand.” 79th verse of the Tao (as revealed in Dr. Wayne W. Dyer’s book, Change Your Thoughts - Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao).



The other day it occurred to me that I could group people into two different camps: those who did everything in their power to help their loved ones experience more joy and feel more love; and those who expected others to give, give, give – to the takers. The takers expected the givers to spend their time and material resources on the takers, without gratitude or without expending one iota of effort in returning that show of love and support. 

One of my Xs, when I left him, paid little to sometimes no child support but expected his kids to buy (not make) him birthday and Christmas gifts every year. He also expected all of his friends to reach out to him, though he never once reached out to any of them without prompts of some sort. I had been the one to remind him of their birthdays, so when I left, he never made another call and eventually lost all but one of his friends.

A woman I once knew expected all of her family members to call her and to visit her. When a grandchild’s birthday rolled around, she would buy that child a gift, but if that grandchild didn’t show up to receive it, she would give the present to another grandchild. 

Those are mild cases of people who belong to the WCYDFM (what can you do for me) Camp. WCIDFY (what can I do for you) people are more difficult to find, not because they don’t exist, but because they perform their kindnesses quietly. They don’t want displays of appreciation. Unlike the WCYDFMers, who trumpet everything they do for others, the WCIDFYers don’t expect applause and accolades. They just do what is right without expecting anything in return.

During my last pregnancy, when I was married to a WCYDFMer (who was that way only with me, by the way – to our neighbors he was a WCIDFYer), I sat down on the couch next to my (then) husband and asked him to scratch my back – to show just a little affection – something he hadn’t done in many years and something I was willing to try again since I was 9 months pregnant. After all, I held inside me his child. 

Though, on occasion, he would scratch my back prior to our marriage, and though I always scratched his back whenever he asked, from the weeks prior to our marriage and all the way through to the end of our marriage, every time I asked him, he refused.

He also went out of his way to accommodate our neighbors – whenever anybody needed him for any reason, he cleaned out their gutters, mowed their lawns, shopped for them, etc., but when I asked him to pick up a gallon of milk, since he was already going out to get beer and cigarettes, he refused, saying he wasn’t going to that store, so I would have to wait for him to return, bundle up all the kids and take all of them to the store with me, because he refused to babysit.

After a while I decided that never again would I ask him to do anything for me, because he refused – again – to scratch my back. Instead I decided to lie next to him on the couch, hoping he would snuggle with me. What’s that they say about insanity? You keep trying the same thing, but you keep expecting different results – every time? Just as he had done several times before, he lifted his knee and shoved me off the couch with his foot. I tumbled to the ground, 9 month pregnant belly and all.

When your relationship is so lopsided that your good deeds are never reciprocated, when you give, give, give, and never feel loved, you hopefully realize that the relationship is one-sided, and then you realize (again, hopefully), that when “relationships” are one-sided, you aren’t “relating” at all.

When I left him, I found myself living below the poverty level, so, because I spent everything I made on my kids, I felt I couldn’t give to others less fortunate than I was. In my faulty thinking I believed that, because I had no money, I was incapable of helping others, and money seemed to be what others needed most. 

One day, just recently (I’m a slow learner), I had an epiphany. I might already be giving to the people I loved! Need a sitter? I’m your girl! Want a crocheted item? I’ll make it for you. And so I had to rewire my thinking and start to believe that giving didn’t have to involve money. Sometimes what people need is a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. And so, without recognizing that I was already giving, I made a conscious effort to give – of myself and of my time.

Before this last Thanksgiving a local organization devoted to helping abused and/or homeless children held a benefit to raise money by asking people to donate items the organization could sell at their fundraiser. I brought a bin filled with lots of crocheted scarves, hats, headbands, and other items for them to sell. And I felt so good about giving! 

How refreshing to know that though I had no money, I could use items I’d crocheted or knitted to benefit somebody else. Why had I never before thought that I could help others by giving something other than money – with items I’d made? Other than crocheting hats for cancer patients, I rarely gave away my hand-made items.

Some of us, as I mentioned above, are slow learners. My thinking needed a little tweaking. I always wanted to be one of those people who could help globally – on a grand scale – and I got discouraged knowing that I couldn’t help even locally. But by donating items I made and by caring for my grandchildren when my kids need help, I’ve made at least a small contribution to some people who have needed my help. Maybe it starts there, at home and with our own circle of friends. And maybe that’s enough.

So take a look around you. Does somebody you love perform acts of kindnesses for you? Do you expect that person to continue to serve you? Do you get angry when he or she doesn’t serve you? Have you been taking that person for granted? 

How about you? Do you go out of your way to make sure your loved ones feel loved? Look at your relationship with your spouse and other close loved ones. Are they doing everything for you? Do you expect them to help you feel loved? 

Probably of everything we do to maintain our significant relationships, the one thing that is most meaningful – to them – is demonstrating our love for them. What better way for those we love to feel loved! 

While I believe we shouldn’t expect anything in return as far as material reciprocations are concerned, we also shouldn’t feel compelled to sacrifice ourselves if we feel we are being used – with one caveat – if we have children in our care, we must sacrifice our time, and sometimes our sleep, because we chose to bring our children into the world. They are not using us! They are depending on us! Giving should be its own reward, something we all discover when we decide to give – of our material possessions and/or of our selves. 


So are you being kind to your spouse, to your children, to your family, to your friends, and to others whose paths you cross? As Ellen Degeneres always says, “Be kind to one another.” And I would like to add, be a What Can I Do For You kind of person.

#WCIDFY #WCYDFM

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

In Search of Happiness


Maybe I’m too optimistic in my belief that ALL of us want to be happy, that happiness is something we all strive to achieve. If my theory is true, why then do so many of us sabotage our own happiness? Why do we unknowingly restrict ourselves from enjoying anything and spend our whole lives looking for something we think we’ll never find? Even if we allow ourselves to think for one minute that we were meant to experience happiness, we believe happiness is like the elusive butterfly – fleeting.

Many of us live on the opposite end of the spectrum from happy. We are bitter, angry, spiteful, jealous, and depressed. And if somebody suggests that we can be happy, we provide lots of excuses to show them how wrong they are. Who can argue with us when we cry about the loss of a parent, a spouse, a child, a home, a job, or a car? We have no reason to be happy, we explain.

Even years later, after we remarry (a drug-abusing alcoholic), give birth to more children (we can’t afford to raise), live in a home (that is too small for our family), have jobs (that don’t pay our bills), drive a car (that lives in the repair shop more often than on the street), we complain bitterly and hold fast to our reasons, or more accurately, our excuses, to explain our relentless unhappiness. Happiness was obviously not meant for us. 

If we had what we wanted or needed but currently don’t have, we explain, we’d be happy. Money, for example, for most of us, would make us happy. We don’t need extreme wealth, though prosperity would be nice – we just need enough money to pay our bills, take a trip, and buy a few luxuries now and then.

So we cling to our belief that others were meant to be happy. We think our lives are worse than anyone else’s life. We think that everything we do is worthless and meaningless. Nothing matters anymore, because everything we do is never good enough. We’ll never be able to support our families, we’ll never find the job that could pay our bills, we’ll never have that child we always wanted, we’ll never … (the list goes on and on).

We think that even if we could pursue our passions (we don’t have enough money to quit our jobs), or if we were wealthy (that will never happen) or if more people supported us and believed in us (our families and friends are about as supportive as stretched out pieces of elastic), maybe THEN we’d be happy. But some very wealthy individuals who have pursued their passions and have had the support of family and friends are still so unhappy they feel their lives aren’t worth living. So you wonder, what’s the point?

STOP! Just STOP! Let’s reexamine our thoughts. We have just invited a a hoard of negativity to enter our spirits, which are now filled with so much self-criticism, hatred, pessimism, and pain that they have hardened to a point where no positive energy can enter. That protective wall we’ve built around us serves only to keep all the negativity inside, smoldering and festering, until we become one giant inflamed sore. Happiness tries to get in, but our walls are too thick, and we’re too stubborn to allow it entry.

And many of us drown ourselves in alcohol and fill our bodies with drugs destined to make even the most positive among us sink deeper into the pits of hell. 

We need to stop abusing our bodies. We need to stop poisoning our minds (and the minds of others who look to us for guidance). We need to open up our hearts and allow the possibility for a little bit of happiness to enter. 

If we don’t, we become bitter old hags with permanent scowls on our faces, pushing away every good thing that comes our way, because we don’t believe that good things can happen – for us. We have convinced ourselves to believe we don’t deserve to be happy, even while that little voice inside us tells us that we do. Why pay attention to that lying, conniving voice when we know that its purpose is to trick us? We are living proof that nothing good happens for people like us. And we compare our heartaches and devastating losses to those of others. 

But comparing ourselves to others is a recipe for disaster. We all follow our own paths, our own loves, our own passions, and what we believe to be our own destinies. Being on my path makes me no better or no worse than you. My progress in life, while connected to yours, in no way is meant to intimate you any more than your progress is meant to intimidate me. 

We are all at different levels of spirituality, emotional maturity, intellect, and physical development. Would you compare your phase of emotional development to that of a teenager? Would you condemn the teenager for not knowing how to regulate his or her hormones? Would you criticize a baby for not knowing how to walk? 

Sadly some parents do, and babies, while unable to comprehend our words, understand and interpret very well our emotions. Inherent in that infant is the ability to stand upright, but our criticism and harassment cannot force Baby to stand before Baby is ready. 

Why then do we force ourselves or our loved ones to travel paths we think they should travel at the pace we think they should move when they are not ready? Why can’t we recognize that our friends and family members are on their own paths and at their own stages of development? If more of us supported and encouraged others – and ourselves – to travel the paths we were meant to travel, more of us might find happiness.

We also need to stop thinking of ourselves as sinners. To feel that we were born with sin and that we have to spend the rest of our lives ridding ourselves of the disgusting filth that embodied us from the moment we were conceived, we place ourselves in a type of Hell from which we may never escape. 

Isn’t sin nothing more than succumbing to temptation? How can a newborn be expected to resist temptation? – Even if the baby was born with sin, how can a defenseless infant be expected to resist temptation? And how can we be born with sin that is supposedly already a part of us unless we brought it forth from a past life? 

Are we to believe in a punishing God and that God is still punishing all of us for the sins committed by Adam and Eve? Maybe we need to rethink our purpose in being on this planet. Maybe the time has come for us to recognize that we have choices. If we believe in the teachings of the Bible, we know that ALL OF US were given Free Will! And because we make our own choices, others make their own choices as well. 

Sometimes their choices put us in danger. Sometimes their choices hurt us. Sometimes their choices kill our family and friends. But so do our choices affect them. Are we always making informed choices? If God took away our Free Will, our ability to choose, would we then be happy? Would we be happy living as robots, unable to make our own choices, because they’ve already been made for us? Why bother living at all if we can’t decide how to live our own lives? 

We have to accept that we have the ability to choose our thoughts, even when others humiliate us, degrade us, and behave in ways that make us miserable. 

As I was in the midst of writing this piece, my mother called to tell me that her grandson (my nephew) would soon be moving and that she was trying to find somebody to take the wall unit that she and my dad had given to him. I had just been telling one of my granddaughters, who had spent the weekend, that I needed a large wall unit to hold all my crafts. 

So when the subject about the shelves arose, I jumped at the opportunity to take something that once belonged to my parents. I told my mom I wanted it and she immediately went on a tirade. “You are NOT getting it. And where would you put it anyway? You are too unstable! You never stay anywhere long enough! How can I expect you to be living anywhere for very long when you move constantly?”

While her reasoning made no sense to me (what difference does moving make?), I understood (but didn’t really understand) that she wanted a stable environment for her very expensive shelf unit. Later, when I talked to my son, who will be taking the shelf unit, I learned that my mother had told him that she knew I was angry with her and that maybe she shouldn’t have been so honest. Those words knocked me off my feet. I found myself even angrier, and I plunged into a depressive state that took a couple of days to dissipate.

Why? I have a tendency to become depressed (usually over lack of money, though), and I always have to resist depression. My mom has never been to my home and she has told me that she will never visit my home, because she won’t drive this far. The problem would be solved if she would spend the night, but she refuses to spend the night. She has no idea how much space I have or why I would want the shelf unit in the first place, etc. But more importantly, she lashed out at me for – what? Why was she angry with me for wanting to take the shelf unit she no longer needed or wanted? 

And how could I continue writhing an article about happiness when I was now so miserable I couldn’t think happy thoughts – at all – in my depressed state of mind? My thoughts went back to the mom she was to me 6 years ago. If I had asked for the wall unit then, she would gladly have given it to me. I had been newly diagnosed with breast cancer, had to go through surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, and she was so terrified I might die, she would have done anything to make me happy. 

But, I realized, because of past psychologically devastating family situations, once the cancer treatment was over, our relationship would resume its stasis. I was back to my designation as the unforgivably weird and unstable renegade in my family. 

And then it hit me – happiness isn’t always an easily achievable state. I needed to understand that fact if I was going to continue writing this article. I’m also reading Dr. Wayne Dyer’s, Change Your Thoughts – Change Your Life. Even if my mother was trying to impart to me the message that I was incapable of caring for anything, even something nobody wanted, I had to learn that what my mother, and others, think about me, is really, according to Dr. Dyer, none of my business. 

Though we try to overcome our sadness at things others say about us, though we may become depressed when people who are supposed to love us act as if they are fully intent on “putting us in our place,” wherever they think that place is, we have to recognize that sometimes angry, miserable, or even just critical people will come along to challenge our attempts to be happy. 

What I’ve learned and what I continue to learn, is that we can’t allow others to threaten our happiness. Whatever my mother’s reasons were for not wanting me to take the wall unit, I had to let go of my desire to make sense of her adamant stronghold about me being unstable. She may go to her grave thinking I’m inept, but I refuse to go to mine believing her.

What I have also learned over time is that we can’t always change what happens around us and we can’t always change what happens to us (though we have some control over what precipitates certain events that occur, like tempting fate by texting/drinking and driving). We can change our reactions, our perceptions, and our beliefs. We can choose to affect our destinies by following our own desired paths, even while others are standing on our paths, intent on pushing us over the edge.

Ignoring them isn’t always an option. Maybe they are our parents, our children, our siblings, or our best friends. But we can choose our reactions to them. We can understand that maybe they are limited in their abilities to move along their own paths, because they’ve been stuck in one position for so long, they don’t know how to proceed. Maybe they’re so focused on us making mistakes they can’t see their own blunders. Or maybe they think their job is to guide us along our paths at the expense of their own journeys.

We can also open our minds to other possibilities. Maybe we brought our sins into this life from a previous existence and the reincarnation theory, “What you reap, so shall you sow,” is playing itself out. Another example for opening our minds is the study of Vedanta, a type of Vedas philosophy, which tells us that, “our real nature is divine. God is our innermost Self, an underlying reality that exists in every being. Religion is therefore a search for Self, a search for God within. We don't need to be ‘saved.’ At worst, we are unaware of our true nature.” (See Source 1 below.) 

Another explanation for Vedanta appears here (Source 2 below): “Vedanta is one of the world’s most ancient religious philosophies and one of its broadest. Based on the Vedas, the sacred scriptures of India, Vedanta affirms the oneness of existence, the divinity of the soul, and the harmony of religions. Vedanta is the philosophical foundation of Hinduism; but while Hinduism includes aspects of Indian culture, Vedanta is universal in its application and is equally relevant to all countries, all cultures, and all (religions).” (What I like about the Vedanta philosophy is that Vedanta treats Christ and spiritual teachers from other religions with equal respect.)

If we learned to accept that happiness is obtainable, we would want to explore the truth that resides in all of us, that we were born with a divine nature, an acceptance that would change our belief about who we are. Believing we are divine does not mean that we are sinless. We are human, after all, but believing in our own divine nature opens our hearts and minds wide enough to recognize that God truly does reside within us! 

Isn’t that what even Biblical scholars have been teaching us all along – that God resides within us – that we don’t have to search outside ourselves to find God? How can we be born with sin if God has dwelled inside us from the moment of conception? And if God co-exists with sin, why do we pay more attention to the negative aspects of our nature (the sins we and others choose to commit)? Why can’t we focus more on our divine nature (the God within)?

One explanation is that we allow greed, anger, gluttony, lust, envy, pride, and sloth (the seven deadly sins) to control us. To combat those sins, we need to replace greed with generosity, anger with compassion and kindness, gluttony with temperance, lust with self-control, envy with empathy and love, pride with humility, and sloth with action. (See Source 4 below.) And maybe we need to start paying attention to little things that we tend to dismiss when we are in the throes of negativity, those almost unrecognizable moments of joy, like this one:

One year, when I was working two part-time jobs, going to school full time, raising my three youngest kids, and getting them to all their after-school activities, I sat in a Dairy Queen parking lot on a beautiful Spring day, waiting for my youngest daughter to get her free ice cream cone (a coupon prize from one of her teachers). Her siblings were with friends and I was trying to relax before I had to return home to wrestle with homework – theirs and mine – and figure out a way to pay the bills. I had been arguing bitterly with their father over the child support he was supposed to pay in keeping with inflation, but he refused. 

Instead, though for eight years the cost of living had risen dramatically, he continued to pay what he paid eight years before. I calculated the difference between what he had been paying and what he should be paying to be the weekly cost of two gallons of milk, a box of cereal, and a loaf of bread. My frustration over his refusal to obey the courts put me in a terrible state of mind. Though I kept praying for some relief, though I kept asking for a miracle, I was always choking back tears, always ready to pound my fists into my steering wheel, my floor, the walls, or even my forehead. One time I flattened a ring on my finger because I had pounded the floor so hard, crying out to God and blaming Him for putting me in such a state of poverty, that I couldn’t get the ring off my finger without using a pair of pliers. 

So, while my daughter stood in line, waiting for her ice cream cone, I stared out the window and, once again fought back tears as I tried to enjoy the weather and not let her see the pain I was in or the frustration I was feeling.

In that moment, a little girl, who was maybe 3 or 4, came up to my driver’s window as her dad looked at me through the front window of my car. She handed me a handful of dandelions, and, in that moment, my heart melted. The little girl didn’t pay my bills and she didn’t entice my X to pay child support, but she came in answer to a prayer. Unbidden, she offered me something my own children had given me numerous times before, a handful of dandelions. 

In that moment, I felt something crack open inside me. I truly believed that this child had been sent to me by God, who I imagined was telling me, “Open your hand. Accept this gift. And open your heart. Remember this moment with joy. Many more will come. Recognize them. In time, you’ll understand that true joy brings happiness.”

My life didn’t change dramatically or immediately. I still found myself getting fired up over my X and his refusal to accept responsibility for his children. And I still fought with creditors over bills I couldn’t afford to pay. But I felt a shift of energy inside me and I never forgot that little girl and her gift.

Today I am happy. I live at just above (yay for small steps) poverty level and I live on a strict budget, but I am happy. Through the sale of my manufactured home, I was able to buy new furniture (my kids grew up with nothing but borrowed furniture). 

My true joy, though, comes from spending time with my kids and grandkids, from visits with friends and family, from the change in seasons, from finding a skein of yarn that I think would make a nice project, from watching new episodes of NCIS or Criminal Minds, from knowing I have a plethora of movies and shows I can watch on Netflix, from walking on my treadmill, or from finding time to read a book. 

Most recently, I began a new business, Crystal Butterfly Creations Message in a Bottle. Will it thrive? I don’t know. My happiness doesn’t depend on whether or not this business succeeds. My happiness derives from knowing that I have talents and skills I can share with others. My happiness comes from knowing that God resides within me and that I can connect with that Source of Happiness and Joy every minute of every day if I open my heart and my mind to recognize the positive energy I draw from that Source – from God. I just have to remember, even in times of sadness and frustration, that God is there waiting for me to notice that Fountain of Joy within me.

Life has never been easy for me. The struggles oftentimes have been insurmountable, just as they have been for everyone else. We can’t expect to remain in a blissful state 24 hours every day. We all encounter frustrations and tragedy that require our attention and zap our energy.

But we can trust that life is cyclical and that “all things must pass,” including our own lives. So while we’re still alive, let’s start enJOYing those little things that bring us JOY right now, today. Let’s learn how to be happy by following our own paths, encouraging and supporting others to follow their own paths, and guiding them along their paths, trusting that we are all where we are meant to be. 

Let’s support others who have fallen off their paths and who have ignored the God within them. Let’s help others realize their talents and skills, and let’s encourage them to share their gifts with others. I leave you with this quote from Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

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